The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Shirley Williams yesterday criticised charities for "lobbying against each other" and said they must be humble enough to learn from their beneficiaries.
Williams, a former Labour MP and founding member of the Social Democratic Party in 1981, was giving the Hinton Lecture, which is given annually in memory of Nicholas Hinton, the former chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who died in 1997.
Following her speech, Williams was asked whether voluntary sector leaders had a role to play in rebuilding trust in society.
"I do recognise there is a very large role for the voluntary sector and for charities," she said. "I’m also aware that a very large number of charities play power games with each other or are keen to lobby against each other.
"Some charities are beginning to get caught up in selfish forms of politics and they need to think quite hard about that," she said. Williams did not name any charities that she believed had done this.
"What I’d say to the charities is to be a bit humble," she said. "Realise that a lot of you can learn from those you serve, because some charities don’t really think they can.
"And then you have a huge role in making the old public services much more responsive to the people they serve," she said.
She said she believed in the importance of charities’ campaigning role but stressed they must make sure their campaigns represented the needs of their beneficiaries.
Williams also said the Charity Commission should change its approach to registering charities. "The Charity Commission tends to have rather conventional views about what constitutes a charity," she said. "We need to be more innovative and accept that some places registered as charities may actually fail as they are trying to do something new.
"We need an innovative sector of the Charity Commission that gives a chance to charities to try things out even if they have to be closed down if they don’t work."
Williams’ lecture, given in central London last night, focused on growing inequalities in wealth, global conflict and the role and condition of democracy.