The culture of the voluntary sector has become " predatory rather than collaborative", according to Matt Scott, a member of the National Coalition for Independent Action, which campaigns for charity independence.
Speaking at the first open evidence-gathering event of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector in London yesterday, Scott said the voluntary and community sector failed to resist the loss of its independence.
"It’s what I think of as an inside job," Scott told the panel. "It creates a culture in the voluntary sector that is frankly predatory rather than collaborative."
He said this culture had helped to increase the gap in the sector between the largest organisations and the grass-roots ones. Solutions to the sector’s lack of independence had to come from the sector, he added, and it must be "in control of its own destiny".
The panel is publishing five annual assessments into the sector’s independence and whose members include Professor Nicholas Deakin, Sir Bert Massie, the former Compact commissioner, and Dame Anne Owers, former chief inspector of prisons.
David Tyler, chief executive of Community Matters, who was also speaking at the event, pointed out problems with the government’s shift from grants to contracts, and to an increase in competitive tendering – sometimes even where there was "no real market".
"Some charities may feel it’s inappropriate to spend money on a competitive process that may lead to nothing," he said.
He said this was also creating a "winner-takes-all" culture in the sector, which could eventually result in a loss of diversity among community organisations if the ones that did not win had to close.
"And one complaint we’ve heard is that when the sector does win contracts, it is frequently subject to much more scrutiny than its private sector counterparts," he said.
Tyler said that some parts of the community sector were concerned that the government was trying to redefine social action to align it principally to public services.
"Our view is that is way too limiting," he said. "The independence of local people to do what they want to do is under threat."