Kevin Curley used his final speech at Navca’s annual conference yesterday to criticise the "strange and confused" relationships that have developed between charities and private companies.
Curley, who retires as chief executive of the local infrastructure organisation in March, said some voluntary sector partnerships with companies appeared to be at odds with their purposes of tackling disadvantage and discrimination.
He used the government’s Work Programme, which involves about 300 voluntary organisations, as an example.
"Is this what an independent local voluntary sector should be doing?" said Curley. "Helping G4S and A4e to maximise their profits from welfare-to-work schemes? Do we really want our relationship with the state brokered for us by the private sector?"
He said it was right for voluntary organisations to provide rehabilitation services in prisons but "running prisons with the private sector on behalf of the state? Surely not. That doesn’t fit with our values".
Curley said voluntary organisations had become muted by their increasingly close relationship with the state during his 40 years in local voluntary action. But he felt this closeness with state funders enabled them to achieve more.
"Sometimes we cannot always say what we mean," he said. "Sometimes we have to bite the bottom lip and stay quiet. But I firmly believe we achieve more at the table inside the town hall than if we stand outside the town hall banging on the door and waving a placard."
The theme of Navca’s conference was localism and Curley said he welcomed the Localism Act, which became law last week. He urged voluntary organisations to use the act to express interest in taking over poorly-performing council services.
But he said there was a danger that private companies or national charities could win any subsequent procurement exercises.
In his keynote speech, David Tyler, chief executive of Community Matters, which represents grassroots community groups, described the act as "a big step in the right direction".
But he said any community groups that wanted to use the act to take over community assets faced three big challenges: process, finance and risk.
Tyler said the six-month timeframe gave organisations little time to mobilise support and that raising finance would be a huge problem for many organisations that were already struggling to pay for costs such as utility bills, which accounted for as much as 20 per cent of income in some cases.