April 18, 2011; Source: Third Sector | As the international recession deepened in late 2008, the U.K.’s Third Sectormagazine convened a “Recession Watch” panel to debate exactly what the recession would do to the nation’s charities.  On occasion, the Recession Watch panelists found a silver lining in the clouds, and Third Sector reported on deliberations with the headlines “Reasons to Be Cheerful” and “Charities Will Have an Edge over Others in the Recession.”

In 2011, the Recession Watch panel was reconstituted as “Austerity Watch.”  The five panelists don’t seem quite as stiff-upper-lipped now as they did during the recession, when Gordon Browne’s Labour Party was in power, replaced by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition in May 2010. 

The newest Austerity Watch conclusion reported by Third Sector is “There’s a lot more pain to come.”  According to the article, the difference may be in the governmental response, noting that “the effects of the government’s austerity measures and the consequent cuts are proving swift and severe for the voluntary sector.” 

How to deal with the persistent challenges facing U.K. nonprofits didn’t get a consensus from the five panelists.  AW panelist Helen Simmons from the Diocese of London declared that there are too many charities and they needed to merge. Toby Blume, the panelist from the Urban Forum, actually took the opposite view, suggesting that lots of community organizations strengthened rather than weakened areas, but “we probably have too many national organisations and organisations that represent others.”  AW panelist Mary Marsh from the Clore Leadership Programme was concerned that too many nonprofits “are hunkering down and thinking things will be all right on the other side in 12 months’ time…And that’s not realistic.” 

The panelists were exercised about cutbacks in government funding, pressures on nonprofits to become “self-sustaining businesses,” and the government’s “trying to get too much done in too short a time.”  Blume said that “there is a growing dissonance between government rhetoric and the reality,” and Simmons observed that the government “…seems to be making it up as it goes along.”  It sounds like they were describing the meanderings of national U.S. policy toward the nonprofit sector.

At Austerity Watch’s first meeting in 2011, Blume gave the session its reportable headline:  “2011 will be a bloodbath.”  That too might describe what is happening on this side of the pond as well as in the U.K.  Let’s hope not.—Rick Cohen