Politicians have indicated to charities that they will lose influence if they do not rein back criticism of government policies, according to Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, Tickell said charities had a responsibility to "speak truth to power" on behalf of their beneficiaries. She said Action for Children was carrying out research on the impact of public spending cuts on children and would publish the results.
Asked by Martyn Lewis, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, whether she had ever been in a situation in which "a politician has indicated to you that you are going too far and they would like you to rein back", she said this had happened.
She said: "There is no financial threat. It’s that if you don’t, you won’t be part of the circle that can influence."
Tickell did not say when this had happened or under which government. She said charities had to "balance influence against sycophancy" and avoid becoming too close to those in government.
At the same event, Charlie Elphicke, the MP for Dover and Deal, said some charities were guilty of "business protection campaigning".
He said this meant they campaigned against government spending cuts in the hope they would win back some public funding they might otherwise lose and said he thought this might be the case with Action for Children’s research.
Tickell said she found the suggestion offensive because the charity was speaking on behalf of children.
The newspaper columnist Polly Toynbee told the same meeting she feared charities were being "muzzled" by a fear of speaking out against spending cuts.
"Every press release from charities says they welcome something the government is doing, then offers a cautious word of concern about something else," she said. "The truth is, they are being cut to the bone. They shouldn’t feel cowed into not saying this."