The funding of local government has often been likened to the ancient European dispute known as the Schleswig-Holstein question, which 19th century Prime Minister Lord Palmerston famously said had only been understood by three people - one was dead, one was mad and one was himself, and he had forgotten all about it. If the Scottish Parliament's forthcoming inquiry (p1) into the tortuous trail of money from national treasury to local coffers provides fresh insights, we shall all be eternally grateful.
Of course, this has not been prompted purely by a thirst for knowledge, but largely by the fears for the future of public services as they are increasingly starved of cash and the search for solutions becomes increasingly desperate. Who would have thought, until the good burghers of Moray came up with the wheeze, that a humble piece of fruit would look better on the balanced sheet whole rather than peeled? (p5)
Our reports this week from various parts of the country point to the danger inherent in such exercises - that savings are made where savings can be found, and they are not always in the right places. In the time before the years of plenty, the budgets for school repair and maintenance were easy targets for making reductions and the consequences are only too apparent in many places.
But perhaps the sheer scale of the crisis set out so clearly by the Auditor General last week will prompt some blue skies thinking. In that respect, we have to commend the proposal by East Lothian Council leaders to turn schools over to independent "community trusts", first mooted in this newspaper in April. Just because it is problematic does not make it wrong. One problem is that it will be seized upon - it has already - by critics who misinterpret or misunderstand the figures on attainment and spending in Scottish schools. The future management of our schools is a serious issue and it must not be hijacked.