In this week's leader column, Craig Borland looks ahead to what Argyll and Bute Council's annual budget day might bring as public services across Scotland face another round of cuts.

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THERE are three things you can count on in any given February in Scotland.

One is the feeling of optimism you get when you leave work at 5pm and can see a sliver of daylight in the sky as you head home.

Second, the groups of anxious-looking men flocking to florists and card shops in a bid to persuade the objects of their affection that there is still romance in their soul.

And third, the stushie in towns and cities across the land as council tax payers protest at the prospect of yet another round of local authority spending cuts.

Argyll and Bute is no different in the last of those regards, as our recent coverage of ways in which the authority might cut its cloth for the next 12 months amply demonstrates.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute council tax set to rise by almost 5 per cent

Rather than springing news of potential cuts on people at the last minute, Argyll and Bute, like most councils, is well used to warning residents in advance of services which might have to be reduced or scrapped altogether.

A few years ago the authority published a list of almost 150 possible ‘savings options’, to universal outcry – not just because of the impact those savings would have, but because, as councillors themselves later admitted, some of those cuts were never going to happen because they would have left the council in breach of its statutory obligations.

And on budget day itself, which in Argyll and Bute is on Thursday, February 21, it’s always been fairly certain that some rabbits will be pulled out of hats and, thanks to plenty of number-crunching on the part of councillors and senior officials, the most eye-catching of the proposed cuts – such as, 12 months ago, a proposal to close 36 of the area's 57 public toilets – won’t be happening after all.

READ MORE: Toilets spared axe in council's 2018-19 budget

That has already happened in some other Scottish council areas. Just this week, Midlothian Council stepped back from a plan to axe free music tuition for school pupils. And councillors in Glasgow have promised that they won’t be backing proposals to shut at least two of the city’s swimming pools.

The most controversial ‘savings option’ in Argyll and Bute this year is undoubtedly the suggestion that school crossing patrols should be axed. And Lomond North councillor George Freeman has suggested in a letter to the Advertiser that he would not be surprised if that particular service survives the latest round of cuts at this week’s budget meeting.

READ MORE: Why spare air services when 'lollipop' patrols face the axe?

Is he right? Well, no-one will know for sure until next Thursday. But it would be a dangerous game indeed to assume that just because councillors have pulled back from the brink in the past, they will do so again this year, and in the years to come too.

Because as far as I can see there is no likelihood of the financial limits on local government – or indeed any level of government – being eased any time soon. And the time will surely have to come one day when the worst case scenario becomes reality.