The 2001 ‘Valuing people’ white paper established learning disability partnership boards (LDPs) for three simple but ambitious reasons.
These were: to create a genuine partnership between different organisations that needed to work together to improve peoples’ lives; to ensure the voices of people with learning disabilities and their families were at their heart (their full membership of boards was a statutory requirement); and to hold local authorities accountable to people, families and the wider community.
What actually happened from 2002-2011 was highly varied. While every local authority set up a partnership board, some ignored the board when it came to significant decision-making. Others became little more than time-consuming talking shops.
At their best, though, partnership boards were transformative.
With a significant proportion of board members being people with learning disabilities and their families, and ‘unusual’ partners – such as those responsible for employment, arts and education – being engaged, debates took on a different nature.
Innovative meeting processes were developed that enabled people and families to engage as equals, using small group activities and visual decision-making tools.
Where boards worked well, different priorities were set, and local authorities experienced the unusual situation of the people and families who used services being allies when decisions (both positive and difficult) were taken.
When the guidance requiring local authorities to have partnership boards lapsed in 2011, many closed them down as part of financial savings.
Some though, did not – and have continued to derive the benefits, as demonstrated in North Yorkshire.
Although 20 years old and no longer backed by statutory guidance, ‘Valuing people’ is still the national policy for learning disabilities and local authorities that (rightly) want to demonstrate good practice, and councils could do far worse than bring back a revamped partnership board.
If LDPs have taught us anything, it is that the impact of everyone’s efforts is multiplied several times over when people work together towards a shared goal.
A genuinely accessible and focused LDP could be highly effective in rebuilding the momentum towards person-centred, community-focused, learning disability services.