Opinion: Beware the dangers of 'pocket' money

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

For almost the entire seven years I was at the MS Society, we struggled with the Department of Health over funding of the only drugs then known to improve the course and outcome of the disease. I named it the Beta Interferon War - it was often a guerrilla conflict and sometimes exploded into setpiece battles through Parliament or the media.

A couple of years into the argument, Nice, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, was created to deal with the cost and value of treatments.

On one side stood the charities, the medics and the pharmaceutical industry; on the other, the professional appraisers, the economists and, ultimately, the Treasury.

The chairman of Nice, first in private and then in public, claimed that my charity was in the pocket of the industry. I was incandescent and, eventually - and on the record - he retracted his claim. He had mistaken the fact that we were struggling for the same result for a closer affinity.

We did receive donations from the industry, but in the scale of our income they were trivial; even if the opportunity had arisen, would we have sacrificed four decades of integrity for small, transient grants? Like all three health charities I have worked for, this one acknowledged public concern about industry links by publishing details of its grants in its annual report.

Last week, The Times splashed the results of its investigation into the 300 or so all-party parliamentary groups. Much of the information was already in the public domain, but the general impression is that a large proportion of the APPGs are financed or serviced, or both, by industrial interest groups and were thus open to their influence. Given less prominence was the fact that many APPGs have the same relationship with charities and other non-profit bodies.

Closer examination by The Times could have shown that the parliamentary activities of a number of charities are in turn funded by industry. Since many donors don't like supporting political activity, charities struggle to resource this activity and are glad of the support of third parties.

Let's assume they all reject any shaping of their priorities by donors and that they refuse to concede any editorial control - the impression can still exist that they are in the pockets of their backers. Charities need to be principled about their involvement with APPGs, just as parliamentarians need to be aware of whose messages they are endorsing.

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