John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, has finally set out his "efficiency delivery" plans, which will require public services to find savings of 2 per cent. As ever, this stern stewardship of the public purse is accompanied by warm assurances that the emphasis will be on "efficiencies", not cuts (although "efficiency targets are expressed in cash terms," we are told) and that no redundancies are "planned" (which is not the same as saying they will not happen).
It is not the first time, and it will not be the last, that the endearing terms of 'efficient government' and 'best value' cloak many a weasel word.
Fiona Hyslop's education and lifelong learning department will have to find pound;48 million of Mr Swinney's pound;600 million target, rising to pound;145 million out of pound;1.5 billion by 2011. Universities and colleges will be expected to find pound;32 million of Ms Hyslop's total in the coming year, rising to pound;96 million by 2011. This rather makes a mockery of the extra pound;19 million for colleges trumpeted by the Scottish Funding Council this week, and the drip-feeding of largesse for further and higher education which Ms Hyslop hopes will earn her brownie points from the academics.
Local authorities and schools will not escape either, and will come under serious pressure not to fill vacancies and to cut costs in expensive services such as education if redundancies are to be avoided.
There is no doubt that councils which are already seriously cash-strapped, such as Aberdeen, will not be able to achieve efficiency gain without pain. And, as the Government admits, the impact on staffing will depend on "the specific circumstances in the local authority". Quite.
Ministers clearly hope to avoid political flak in all of this: they will blame Westminster for its ungenerous financial settlement and offload the responsibility for implementing the consequences to the Scottish Funding Council and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. But we all know where the buck stops.