Our survey of local authority education budgets this week (pages 4-5) is very much a case of "what you see is not necessarily what you get". Many councils appear to show remarkable generosity against the odds and many, for their own political reasons, are drawing as much comfort from the oft-described "tight financial settlement" as they can. The more inflated figures have their particular explanations, and we know that education budgets can grow because of additional costs, not just as a result of municipal largesse.
Of course, any survey of this kind has to carry the inevitable health warning that it is not a verifiable audit of figures: we are not the Accounts Commission. We have simply presented the details supplied to us and every authority does its sums in its own way. The information, however, indicates trends and highlights pressure points. And there is no doubt that schools which have to find "efficiency savings" will face tough times ahead, while those which don't will face uncertain times ahead.
The initial betting was that 2008 would be a difficult year for local government funding, but 2009 would be worse. The truth is, we don't really know. At least part of the answer depends on a range of factors. How much in efficiency savings can be ploughed back to invest in council services? What will be the impact for schools of raids on the previously ring-fenced monies they enjoyed? Will the freeze on council tax blow a gaping hole in the funding of services? Might councils take advantage of cost pressures to attempt radical surgery on staffing and other areas?
The very least that schools have a right to expect from national and local politicians - particularly the many inexperienced councillors newly elected last May - is that having willed the ends, they must also will the means.