Birmingham's new library and the verbal contract
Those of you fascinated by interesting statistics might like to try this for size.
The ÃÂ£330 million that Birmingham City Council expects to have to cut from its budgets over the next four years as a result of the public spending squeeze doesn't even come close to the ÃÂ£590 million it will have to pay for its grand new civic library in Centenary Square.
Granted, the bill for the library will be repaid over 60 years. But the true cost of the project, taking into account cash loans and maintenance payments, has certainly saddled the council with a financial headache that it could do without.
Quite correctly, council leaders are focusing on the difficult decisions that must be made with regards to finding ÃÂ£330 million in a very short period and are openly admitting that thousands of jobs may disappear along with harsh cuts to services.
With the benefit of hindsight, would council leader Mike Whitby have been quite so keen on building the library if he had an inkling of the unprecedented cuts in government funding heading Birmingham's way. Knowing Whitby, the answer is a resounding yes.
That doesn't mean, though, that the library project has the enthusiastic backing of the entire council Conservative group.
A recent government report detailing steadily falling numbers of people visiting libraries in England has left some Tories wondering whether Birmingham is some 20 years late replacing its main library.
Cabinet leisure member Martin Mullaney, meanwhile, has been told to find ÃÂ£5.4 million efficiency savings in his budget as part of the council's preparations for government spending cuts. The figure, by another extraordinary coincidence, is very close to the ÃÂ£6 million a year the council must find to repay interest on the loans it has taken out to build the new library.
Mullaney insists that the ÃÂ£6 million figure will not have to come from the leisure department budget.
It will be paid out of what the council calls the "corporate centre", better known as cash reserves or rainy day funds.
He says he has Coun Whitby's verbal assurance that this will happen through the method of topping up his department's budget by ÃÂ£6 million year on year during the lengthy 60-year repayment period.
Unfortunately for Mullaney, the last financial breakdown of the leisure budget produced by council number crunchers shows precisely zero increase in the budget over the next 10 years. There is as yet no indication that Whitby and his cheque book are waiting around the corner.
The leisure budget stands at ÃÂ£43 million today and is projected to remain at ÃÂ£43 million in 2020. When inflation is taken into account, say three per cent a year, this could amount to cutting the amount of money available for leisure and cultural services by almost a third.
All eyes are on Mullaney's strategic review of the city's 40 community libraries, which will take into account value for money and look at the type of service required in future. He won't need me to remind him that he is treading on very dangerous ground indeed, for opponents of the council leader's civic library scheme have always believed the project will ultimately be paid for through saving money by closing community libraries.
This is not the case at all, according to the cabinet member, who is trumpeting Mike Whitby's verbal assurance that the library loan payments will be covered.
Somehow I am reminded of legendary Hollywood film producer Sam Goldwyn's famous remark: "A verbal contract ain't worth the paper it's written on."