David Towell is director of the Centre for Inclusive Futures. He is also an adviser to the government’s beacon scheme for innovation by local authorities, in the Valuing People category. The beacons were awarded last week.
How did you decide which councils would be awarded beacon status for their work on Valuing People, the government’s blueprint for improving services for people with learning difficulties?
We were looking for real evidence of improvements in people’s lives across the key issues of making a successful transition into adulthood, being supported to live in one’s own home, getting jobs and otherwise contributing to one’s community – and doing all this in ways which include people with multiple impairments and people from minority communities.
What are the particular outstanding features of the work of each council that was selected?
The London Borough of Greenwich is doing well in the direct involvement of people with learning difficulties in mainstream planning, including at the neighbourhood level; in ensuring good access to public resources like its excellent leisure centres; and in its initiative with Transport for London to make travel easier.
Norfolk Council has forged a strong partnership with people with learning difficulties and their family carers, to drive forward a long, and sometimes difficult shift away from traditional services. There is increasing evidence of its success on housing, jobs and leisure opportunities.
Rotherham Council makes a uniquely high investment in advocacy to ensure the voices of people with learning difficulties are heard throughout the council.
Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire People First was the only application explicitly based on partnership between the council and a self-advocacy organisation. It is demonstrating how to create appropriate partnerships at both district council and county level to push forward the mainstreaming agenda.
Learning difficulties services now account for the highest spending pressure in adult social care and some councils are considering cutting services to adjust to this. What can other councils learn from the beacons about managing resources to meet the aims of Valuing People?
These beacon councils face their share of spending pressures. We were impressed in Norfolk by the way people with learning difficulties and their families have been real partners with the council in facing up to an earlier round of cuts.
Wiltshire is currently one of the councils most vocal in its concerns about “cost-shunting” from the NHS.
So one message is that these councils are openly facing up to present realities as part of a long-term strategy for radical change.
Some of the news here is good: Greenwich for example is expecting £700 million of investment in the coming years as part of the Thames Gateway renewal and also well-placed to see that people with learning difficulties gain from the substantial investment in preparing for the Olympics.
Do councils need more incentives to drive Valuing People forward, and how can implementation be improved?
Valuing People remains an excellent statement of direction. But progress is too slow and too patchy, as the Valuing People task force would be the first to acknowledge.
We need to build on the experience of partnership boards and the investment in advocacy, so as to strengthen community pressure for progress and focus this pressure on people’s inclusion in the mainstream of life. We need to work harder at building equality and inclusion into mainstream policy and performance.