Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, has accused Suffolk County Council of "extremely bad commissioning" after it adopted a county-wide approach to funding addiction services that ignored the skills of a small charity.
At yesterday’s meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering, Hurd praised the Ipswich addiction charity Iceni, which last year lost a council tender to provide drug treatment in Ipswich.
The Conservative-led council chose two large organisations from outside Suffolk to provide a county-wide service. Hurd said: "Suffolk County Council contracted its drugs service countywide and ignored Iceni. This was extremely bad commissioning."
Hurd said central government was considering what it could do to prevent this kind of situation affecting small charities like Iceni.
Councillor Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council, said in a statement that the government had recognised that overall performance on the council’s drugs strategy had improved. "We will continue to develop local services to meet the tough targets we have set our contractors and respond to the needs of the clients," he said.
Simon Bowkett, business and services development manager at Exeter CVS, said at the APPG meeting the government was sending out "confused" messages about whether it was prepared to intervene in funding disputes involving local authorities and charities.
Bowkett said he had read on ThirdSector.co.uk about Hurd saying central government could do little to help charities in their funding disputes with Work Programme prime contractors.
A day later, he read on ThirdSector.co.uk that Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, had agreed to intervene in the case of Nottinghamshire County Council, which is accused of making disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector.
"There is a confused message out there," said Bowkett.
Hurd said the government’s message had been consistent. "From the Prime Minister down we have sent out a clear signal that we don’t expect councils to be making cuts in a disproportionate way," he said.
But he said the country was moving into an age of localism, and accountability was shifting.
He added: "The bottom line is councils will be increasingly accountable to people. The ability of ministers to dictate that behaviour will become increasingly limited. The sector has to embrace the opportunities and risks relating to that."