Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, has pledged to stand up for charities when local authorities unfairly reduce their budgets but warned that ultimately it was a matter for councils to decide.
Speaking at the consultancy Action Planning’s Funding the Future conference yesterday, Pickles said he had shown he was willing to have "polite words with councils to remind them the drawbridge stays firmly down" on voluntary sector funding.
Pickles wrote to Nottinghamshire County Council this year saying its 34 per cent reduction to its voluntary sector grants budget did not follow the Best Value Statutory Guidance his department published last year. This document says local authorities should not make "disproportionate" funding cuts to the voluntary sector.
He praised councils in Derby, Sefton, Bradford and Sheffield for applying the guidance and having "grown-up conversations with the sector about services and budget realities before taking decisions".
But in a question-and-answer session afterwards, he said the Localism Act had limited the role of central government.
"Everyone is in favour of localism until their local council doesn’t do what they want," he said. "Then they say: 'Oi, Pickles, what are you doing about it?'
"I have shown I’m willing to be rude, but ultimately localism means you have to come to a decision locally."
Pickles said he wasn’t like Mussolini or John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, whom he said liked to impose their wills.
Pickles said the government had helped charities by removing bureaucracy – by getting rid of pre-qualifying questionnaires for contracts worth less than £100,000, for example.
He said the Local Government Association was "keen for councils to take the same tack and I am confident progress is being made".
Also at the conference, Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said it was too early to make judgements about the Work Programme, the government’s main scheme to get people back to work.
"Clearly there are issues," he said. But he said the payments-by-results scheme was a good model that needed to be made to work.