Gareth Batts (on behalf of Sue Groves MBE) asked the Portfolio Holder for Adult Services, Councillor Brake the following:
Medway Council agreed the Labour motion on 18 October 2012 asking the Council to set up and support a Medway Disabled Residents Forum, to enable disabled residents to have a collective voice and to act as a formal consultee when the Council proposes changes or improvements that affect this group. I am disappointed however by the lack of contact on this matter since that agreement was given.
Can the Portfolio Holder tell me what steps have been taken to set up the forum, who is the point of contact, when it is likely to be operational and how disabled residents will be invited to join?
Councillor O’Brien, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Customer Contact (on behalf of Councillor Brake), stated that officers from across the Council had met to explore this proposal and to consider how it might be supported in practice. He stated that he was grateful for the time spent by those officers and for the suggestion that the Forum should be resident led and run. The long term success of such a Forum would be dependent on residents who had everyday experience of living with disability being actively engaged in all aspects of running the Forum, from naming the new Forum, to setting the agenda.
It is recognised that residents would no doubt require support from officers so they could maximise the opportunity to actively participate. This support could be available during initial formation, and ongoing as the Forum develops. It could also include practical assistance such as the distribution of documents well in advance of meetings in formats such as Easy Read and Braille. Assistance to bid for funding to support this initiative from the Government’s Office for Disability Issues could also be available.
There were a number of existing very effective and active disability forums which it would be important to involve in developing proposals, as well as reaching out to the wider group of disabled residents in Medway. These included the Learning Disability Partnership Board, the Physical Disability Partnership Board, Medway Access Group, Medway Older People Partnership, Medway Carers Board, and Medway Parent and Carers Forum.
Councillor O’Brien suggested that the next step would be to invite key members of existing disability groups together with cross party Member representation to a planning meeting in February 2013. Appropriate draft terms of reference for the Forum could be developed at the meeting. It would of course be for the Forum itself to agree these.
The outcome of this exploratory work by officers, Members and most crucially disabled residents could then be considered by Cabinet in terms of the support required from the Council. He stated that contact details for the public have yet to be agreed and subject to approval, the Forum could be operational from Spring 2013.
Key representatives from existing Disability Groups in Medway would be invited to join the new Disabled Residents Forum. The planning meeting would also consider the most appropriate approach to maximise wider participation.
Gareth Batts (on behalf of Sue Groves MBE) asked whether the Disabled Residents Forum would be able to deal with issues such as the recent attempt by Medway Maritime Trust to try to charge blue badge holders for parking. Now that the Trust had moved to reduce the adverse impact of its actions on disabled patients, was the Portfolio Holder prepared to review the Council’s decision to charge Blue Badge Holders to renew their badges?
Councillor O’Brien stated that Gareth Batts would be aware of his public pronouncements on charges for blue badge holders at the hospital and that he would also know of his public pronouncements when he reported on the Council’s administration charge which was a very small administration charge that the Council put into place after much public consultation.