12th LDAG meeting and role of AWPF members by Joe Powell

At the February meeting of the Learning Disability Advisory Group (LDAG) the members reviewed the membership of LDAG. I suggested that it would be a good idea if we had someone with a learning disability from North Wales. The other members fell silent, but the civil servants seemed very enthusiastic. I was confused. Was my idea so silly?

After the meeting I didn't give this much thought. You never know what suggestions may be popular or what suggestions will be taken on board but to my utter delight, All Wales People First were contacted and asked to accept expressions of interest for a North Wales representative for LDAG. We had three strong applications from three very worthy candidates. My colleague Yvonne Boxall and I judged each application based on the criteria given to us by the Welsh Government and we decided that the application of Catherine Watchorn of Flintshire was the strongest. Catherine was delighted to be offered the role.
Her appointment had only just been confirmed shortly before the June meeting so she was unfortunately not able to attend but is looking forward to joining the group at the next meeting in September.

I expressed my thanks to the Welsh Government for backing this initiative and would like to articulate this in my blog. As National Director of All Wales People First, I always try my very best to represent the collected and individual needs of all self-advocacy groups across Wales at a national level, but the one thing I can never do is to give a personal and heartfelt experience of what it is like to live in each community across Wales. Only individual members can ever do that. Catherine now becomes the third member of LDAG to have a learning disability, joining the co-Chair Sophie Hinksman and myself. North Wales is often the 'forgotten' region in Wales and this is something I am very conscious of. Bringing her experience to LDAG is therefore very appropriate.

In my opinion, it is very important that LDAG is balanced. I personally don't believe that the sociological model is more important than the medical model or that one profession is more important than another. As important as it is to have third sector representatives at LDAG, it is also important that we have people who work in health, social services etc. Everyone's contribution is important and that includes people with a learning disability. No more and no less. The important thing about LDAG is that the Minister is given the best advice and recommendations about a variety of topics and issues, and that he (or she) has access to the best advice and information. I believe that the collective membership of LDAG complements one another and gives a broad and holistic viewpoint to the Minister.

Sophie Hinksman is coming to the end of her tenure as the co-Chair of LDAG. Sophie was interviewed for the position in 2012 and has been fabulous in the role. She is a natural chair, with a delightful, inclusive manner and fantastic social skills. Sophie's inclusion has been important, not only because she is a great chair in her own right but also because she reminds us all of the important contribution people with a learning disability can make. She has been a fantastic ambassador for people with a learning disability and I really hope she will consider standing for the position of co-Chair once it becomes vacant again. I also hope the example she has set will persuade and inspire many other possible candidates to do the same and apply for the position when it opens again.

At the 12th LDAG meeting in June, we were given presentations by the Welsh Government leads on specific parts of the Social Services and Well Being (Wales) Act: Gareth Griffiths (parts 4 and 5 ), Julie Annetts (part 6), Steve Vaughan (part 9) and David Clayton (part 10). They updated us all on the second tranche of consultations and there was time for questions after the presentations. This gave the members of LDAG a chance to understand the progress made in each part of the Act and to help us think about how we may advise the Minister in a joint consultation response on how to take things forward.

After lunch LDAG broke into two groups to discuss certain parts of the act in the second tranche. We talked passionately about what should be included, excluded and any weaknesses we felt needed to be addressed. All the comments of the members were noted and these will form part of the joint LDAG consultation response.

Members agreed to feed their individual responses to the co-Chairs who would meet with LDAG Information Officer Sam Williams to collate them and submit the responses by the consultation deadline of 31 July. I would urge anyone who reads this blog to also submit a response to these important consultations. Whatever your role and whatever your point of view, your voice needs to be heard. Let's help the Welsh Government get the new Act right and let's make a positive difference to the lives of people with a learning disability across Wales. After all, this is what we are all here for, isn't it?

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