Over the last few years the news has been peppered with stories about how the cuts to local authority grants is putting frontline services at risk. When those services are being commissioned to provide for vulnerable adults it is all the more emotive. However, a tight financial environment can foster the right conditions to not only deliver value for money services, but really improve outcomes for people. In April of this year, local authorities across the country inherited the responsibility of providing post 18 education for young people with complex Learning Disabilities. Previously this had been the responsibility of a quango called the Education Funding Agency and prior to that the Young Peoples Learning Agency. These organisations had faced little oversight in terms of the money they were spending and the outcomes that were being achieved for the young people it was spent on.
In the London Borough of Bexley we could clearly see that our local young people with Learning Disabilities were being shipped to out of borough institutions, where a three year stay would result in a debatable improvement in outcomes. These Independent Service Providers were charging the taxpayer anything up to £150,000 per placement. As a result we wanted to create an alternative that put the individual at the centre of the learning experience, that championed long term independence and where a young person had the capacity, that we did everything we could to ensure they were able to aspire to work and access universal services. As a result we developed our Local College First programme. LCF is an in borough offering in partnership with the Council, Bexley College, Adult Education and health partners. The main aims of the project are to ensure better long term planning for learner's transition and future, staying connected to friends and family locally, opportunity to make local connections with work experience providers who will hopefully become their local employers, and to learn "real" and useful urban area travel skills which can then be applied for the rest of their lives. This project sits in a wider retender of Learning Disability Services that is more about allowing people to have a productive life, as opposed to providing a "service" that segregates the user from the wider community.
This type of local tailored plan is one of the first in the country, and now we have reached the end of its first term in operation, we are already seeing the difference it is making to individuals and their families. One parent said of his son who has autism "(he) has changed beyond all recognition. He has gone from a young person who didn't like to socialise to someone who now enjoys going to college and days out with his Personal Assistant. He now willingly gives us information about his day and what he is doing." Another young adult Learner who is in a wheelchair and has communication issues, has with help from his personal assistant, seen improved fine motor skills; is able to more easily communicate his needs, which has greatly improved his confidence, socialisation, and his ability to learn.
The other important element of the project is its cost. Not only are we seeing better outcomes for our residents, we are also saving money on this statutory service. If we had left the service unreformed we had a predicted spend in excess of £800,000 for the 11 young adults who were due to start their post 18 education. We are currently looking at an overall cost for the Local College First alternative of just over £400,000.
I appreciate that for many authorities up and down the country of all political persuasions it is becoming all the more difficult to find further budget savings as opportunities for shared services and back office efficiencies are exhausted. That said when councils are innovative about how they deliver services they can achieve value for money and improve quality. The most important ingredient is to have the courage to rise to the challenge, pull apart established practices and think outside the box. Less money doesn't have to equate to poor quality.