The money's gone but don't ask us where

"Reallocation" was the phrase that rang round Argyll Council's Lochgilphead chambers last week as weary and increasingly puzzled councillors tackled their budget cuts with depressed resignation.

Any shift in budget figures invariably met the response from education chairman Allan MacAskill and finance supremo Joe McGeer that the sums were to be found under a different heading or transferred to the item under discussion.

Councillors eventually got the hang of it. Kilkerran's Alastair McKinlay noted a huge increase in cleaning costs for community education, from Pounds 37,000 to Pounds 165,000. "I suppose Mr McGeer will tell us it's a reallocation, " he commented. "You've answered your own question," MacAskill told him.

"Miscellaneous expenses" had gone from zero to Pounds 10,000 which apparently allows officials to keep track of the number of cups of tea consumed by visitors to the council's offices. But was there a separate coffee allocation?

MacAskill expressed the hope that "if we're alive next year things will be simpler and the basis of allocation clearer". This sounded suspiciously familiar to the SNP's Campbell Cameron who told him: "You said that last year." But, of course, the councillors at that time were merely a shadow of their present selves.

It was then over to director Archie Morton, who got his retaliation in first. A series of overhead slides, modestly coloured compared with the old Strathclyde versions, revealed a slimmed down directorate, wondrously effective and even earning income for the service.

Morton was anything but obscure although he did obscure the view of one councillor who asked the director to stand to the other side of the screen. Wary of tripping over some wires, Morton warned: "If I go up in a blue smoke . . ." Before he could finish, the elected members immediately spotted the potential. "Savings, savings," they chanted.

One councillor must have been harbouring unkind thoughts on the necessity of having a director. "Could Mr Morton stand behind the screen?" he wondered.

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