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Jigsaw pieces fall into place

The Government's excellence money makes the analysis of comparisons and trends particularly troublesome this year. One complicating factor, Alan Blackie of East Lothian maintains, is the "joined-up approach" to delivering services. Child care and new community schools, for example, draw funds from other budgets.

SNP-controlled Moray illustrates another complexity. Spending is up by pound;1.5m, a 3.2 per cent increase in real terms. But a pound;12.5m privately funded deal to set up the National Grid for Learning, spread over seven years, will boost the figures.

Moray's budget would be at a standstill without the excellence fund, Kevin Gavin, the director of education says. None the less, Mr Gavin said, "it's very good news for us". There would be more primary teachers, auxiliaries and psychologists.

Budgets have also been boosted by initial tranches of Government cash, which trickled into council coffers before the pound;629m three-year allocations through the excellence fund. This New Deal money is now included in baseline expenditure, mainly to kick-start early intervention and raise standards.

East Dunbartonshire has yet to set final spending levels. It has to find council-wide savings of pound;2.5m, but it has already announced two symbolic decisions - charges for music tuition are to be withdrawn at a cost of pound;45,000 and swimming lessons for primary pupils are being reinstated at a cost of pound;40,000.

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