Blue Badge Workshops – In partnership with WLGA

First an apology, this blog should have been delivered in a timelier way and also it should have been more comprehensive. But as both of my sessions were cut massively short by overruns, I can put that up as mitigation. Don’t worry it is normally me that overruns so its good for me to be on the receiving end!
I would like to dedicate more time to the blog but as time conflicts kick in I decided to adopt the agile approach and to deliver a MVB – Minimum Viable Blog. Depending on what gets decided tomorrow by Welsh Government and subsequently by the Local Authorities might be irrelevant. Also if I don’t do it now it will be to old and not get done at all and I feel passionately I wanted to reflect on the 2 workshops and the report.
We were invited to facilitate a couple of workshops related to Blue Badge Services in Wales by Clover Rodriguez of the Welsh Local Government association. The need for the workshops was driven by the National Assembly for Wales Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee report on the Blue Badge Scheme in Wales.
The report undertook a review of the service and came up with a series of recommendations for potential improvements that Welsh Government now need to consider and decide if/how they may implement them.

What is the Blue Badge Scheme?

To use the definition from Gov.uk

The Blue Badge scheme helps you park closer to your destination if you’re disabled.

It’s a bit basic as a definition but it is the definition from the government and as good a place as anywhere to start.
Recently the scheme has undergone huge changes with the Department For Transport delivering an entirely new system along with some legislative change outside of Wales for hidden disabilities.
The report picked up on a number of issues but a clear theme underpinning the results was the lack of consistency in application of the scheme across Wales (understandable as the legislation is open to interpretation and the responsibility is devolved to local government). It is fair to say recent legislative changes outside Wales have caused new issues both inside and outside Wales with confusion over differing rules.
The report detailed feedback from service users, local government and third sector agencies amongst others about the difficulties in administration of the current system.
John Griffiths AM picked up a couple of highlights in his introduction to the report.

Blue badges provide a lifeline for a range of people in our society. Without them many would struggle to access essential services such as attending medical appointments. Difficulty in visiting shops and using leisure facilities would diminish their ability to lead independent lives and they could become more isolated and confined to their own homes. The system must be fit for purpose given its importance to our communities.

Differing arrangements across the 22 councils have led to inconsistencies in implementation across Wales. Addressing this should be a priority for Welsh Government and local authorities so that everyone may receive a quality service, regardless of where they live. We have made practical suggestions to encourage, and achieve, consistency.

So, what did we do?

Across the 2 days of workshops we heard from many experts in the field. Unfortunately, the service user representatives were unable to make the workshops however the user needs were well represented in the room. We hear from Daniel Fyfield from DFT about progress to date, Susan Blunt from Welsh Government about the next steps they are undertaking, some Local Authorities who contributed to the original report, Pembrokeshire County Council on their approach and IEG4 about what they have done with solutions.
There was a good mixture of sessions in a variety of mediums and some outputs captured that can hopefully help Local Authorities move forward.
Some key learning from the day was the start of the Welsh Government Local Authority group and the need for all to join as well as the real red-letter day for the next information being the 16th October 2019 after the report, recommendations and planned actions are debated in the Welsh Assembly.

Responses to the report’s contents

Generally, there was an acknowledgement that the reports contents were fair and fundamentally the principle of a common approach to the Blue Badge scheme across Wales would be advantageous. There are a number of challenges to being able to deliver this and some of these are detailed below.
Key issues/challenges and solutions:

• Communication across LA’s
• Clarity of guidance from Welsh Government
• Resources / capacity to implement
• Different IT systems
• Opportunity for consistency / standardisation of assessments
• Funding / resources at a local level differ greatly

Good practice examples:
• Whilst we did not have sufficient time to go in to detail on this, it was expressed that there were lots of examples of good practice at local LA level and it would be useful to be able to share these across the region.
What next?
• Identify leadership to take this forward and own it
• Ensure efforts are coordinated and not splintered
• Ensure all stakeholders have a voice
• Single working group to bring LAs together to find a solution to key issues

An opportunity to improve?

For me the report provides an opportunity.
Fundamentally it is an opportunity to improve the service for the users.
First of all, it is an opportunity for Welsh Local Government to be an exemplar for how the scheme can be run in a consistent way for users.
It is an opportunity to learn from best practice across Wales and to codesign a standard consistent process for service users.
It is an opportunity for Welsh Government to provide clear guidance to their views on how the scheme should be administered in Wales.
It is an opportunity to consider rationalising the many systems used by Welsh Local Authorities and to collaborate to build or buy a single solution.
It is an opportunity to make savings in systems costs by adopting a single system.
It is an opportunity to look at other collaboration across Blue Badge services such as creating a common reporting tool for the data you can download from DFT.