Are charities being realistic about the cuts?

By John Copps 12 July 2010

Last Monday, for the first time,  I felt the heat of public sector cuts.

I spent the evening hunched over my laptop waiting for the publication of a document describing the fate of billions of pounds of public spending in school buildings. Until a couple of months ago, the Building Schools for the Future programme had been heralded as a once-in-a-generation investment, promising a better educational environment for pupils throughout the land.

My interest in this was as a governor of my local secondary school, which is due to begin a new build in November. I was hanging on a decision which I had no influence or control over.

Much has been written on the implications of reduction in public sector spending for charities. I can’t help feeling that a lot of this has been very optimistic. Pundits like emphasising the positive: the opportunities it will bring to refresh, renew and innovate. But, on balance, is this really a fair assessment?

At the end of last week I was on the phone to the project manager of a charity that runs a programme of summer sports events across England. During the course of our conversation I inadvertently informed him that County Sports Partnerships – part of the investment government makes to support wider participation in sporting activities – had been cut. He hadn’t heard.

Capital projects and infrastructure – the examples above –  are the easy bits to get rid of. But everyone knows that cuts will not stop there. The charitable sector in the UK receives 36% of its income from the public purse, so there won’t be many parts of it that do not feel some effect.

When the list of school building projects was finally published on Monday evening, thankfully, our new school was given the go-ahead. But the experience was sobering and added a streak of reality to some of the commentary that I have read over the past few months. We were very lucky; many others missed out – with no clear reason for some of these differences.

The mood across the charitable sector in recent months has been optimistic. But I worry that we are kidding ourselves and that the same story will be retold.