Oh, how they must be sniggering in the chic wine bars of Milano today. As elegant fingers control the flow of Pinot Grigio, and Gucci and Prada shopping bags rest casually against their tables, they read that Italy has exited recession, along with the US, Germany, Japan and France. Only country still languishing in the mire is the one whose Prime Minister claimed was "best placed to withstand the recession". And the sniggers turn to joyous celebration as they read that Italy has now passed the UK in the 'prosperity' league. At least that's what happened last time this happened in 1987 - according to today's Telegraph.
During John Major's premiership, the UK regained its lead over the Azzuri. And later, I seem to remember Gordon Brown trumpeting his economic brilliance by boasting that the UK economy had become the fourth strongest in the world. Well, it seems we are now seventh. To make things more worrying, every economic forecaster had predicted that we would be exiting recession during the last quarter. The news that the UK economy shrank by 0.4% between July and September has come as a big surprise. They were all expecting 2% growth. The position is far worse than anyone was expecting.
Now I'm not usually much engaged with the business pages, but this matters. Met a local headteacher today who raised the subject of future funding of education. This is where it does become engaging. Today's news means that the reduction in public spending (whenever it takes place) will inevitably be even worse than we were expecting. And when the Treasury spends less, the budget allocation to the National Assembly is proportionately less, and the Assembly's allocation to local councils is proportionately less, and far and away the biggest budget head of our councils is education. Work it out for yourself. Managing a comprehensive school, or a hospital, or providing care for the elderly and mentally ill is going to a huge challenge over the next few years. There may be sniggering in Milano, but it going to be pain and sacrifice for many of those charged with delivering public services in the UK.