The Labour peer Lord Blunkett has called on charities to be as "nice as possible even through gritted teeth" to ministers while lobbying backbench MPs for change behind the scenes.
Blunkett, a former Home Secretary, was speaking at a parliamentary reception yesterday after the annual general meeting of the charity chief executives body Acevo.
He was joined by Peter Kyle, a former deputy chief executive of Acevo and now Labour MP for Hove and Portslade, who warned the sector was facing a worse situation than the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Blunkett said: "We’re in a funny situation — the big society is on the back burner for a bit, Labour’s having to decide whether it really believes everything has to be done by the government on national level, the austerity measures are biting in every possible way."
This left the charity sector struggling to fill the gap when public services disappeared, he said, and striking the balance between being "colluders with the unacceptable" cutting of services and risking opposing the government offering the funding.
He said: "My balance is that you pretend to collude while you actually oppose. So I recommend you be as nice as possible even through gritted teeth, all the time for ministers... while encouraging and supporting backbenchers, trying to encourage people to understand what’s going on and then to raise their voices to change things."
He also called on charities to work together more.
"You are out there, doing things, changing things and by being together, speaking together, by having a voice together, by reinforcing each other and by spirit of mutuality and solidarity together, you can actually make a difference... and above all you can encourage the world to believe that there is a tomorrow, that there is something better around the corner," he said.
Kyle agreed, and reflected on his time at Acevo in the early days of the financial crash, when he said expectations of himself and his colleagues now feel "almost quaint".
He said: "We thought at that time, during that three or four years, we thought nothing could ever surpass the challenges we would have to face in that time.
"Now, looking back at that period, you realise the challenges were very focussed and it was quite easy to understand, because it was purely financial and it was about your relationship with your funders and how to get through that — and now I look at the challenges the sector faces and I think you’re getting in from also sides."
He added: "I can’t imagine how difficult it is to have financial difficulties, legislation which inhibits your ability to speak up and you also have people in areas of authority who stick the boot in to you while you’re down rather than stick up you.
"This is something no other sector has to cope with, and I’m in complete admiration for those of you who are steering through that path."