Cllr Chris Taylor is the Cabinet Member for Adults Services on Bexley Council
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 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, and that the taxpayer was spending anything up to £150,000 per placement for the privilege. 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 College 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 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 his son “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.”
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 fully appreciate how difficult making savings is becoming for local government, especially for the better run authorities that have already hit back office operations and explored shared services such as Bexley. That said when councils are innovative about how they deliver services they can achieve value for money and improve quality. It is about being prepared to rise to the challenge and think outside the box.