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Laura Fergusson welcomes chance to resolve issues through mediation

Laura Fergusson Trust Incorporated (LFT Auckland) welcomes a decision by its critics to finally progress towards mediation, in an attempt to resolve a long-standing dispute and agree on a way forward.

After over a decade of struggling with funding shortfalls and aging infrastructure, LFT Auckland concluded in 2019 that its services in Auckland, Hamilton and Whanganui were no longer aligned with Government policy or financially sustainable.

The Board decided to cease services, transition its clients and staff and sell its land. The intent was to use the proceeds of the land sale to establish one of New Zealand’s largest social investment agencies, dedicated to supporting a wide range of initiatives that help people with disabilities lead better lives.

The decision to close was understandably upsetting for many of the services’ clients and LFT Auckland’s Board acknowledges that some people are still grieving the loss of this much-loved facility.

A year after the closure, a small group began actively campaigning to see the legacy residential-based services reinstated. In a bid to have the matter cleared up, LFT Auckland asked the High Court to intermediate and make a clear decision on the future services that it can provide to the disabled community.

While aspects of the case are continuing, in March this year the High Court encouraged the parties to enter mediation to resolve many of the outstanding issues between them.

“We believe mediation will provide an opportunity to better understand LFT Auckland’s reasons for transitioning away from residential services and towards a disability-led social investment model,” said LFT Auckland Board Chair Chris O’Brien.

“We’re pleased to confirm that after a long delay, the parties are now working to agree the terms of a mediation and to also organise a meeting for them with the specialist financial advisors from PwC who worked on an in-depth analysis of LFT Auckland’s future options. We look forward to helping this group better understand the challenges we faced and the thorough work behind the decision to move away from our legacy services.”

While LFT Auckland’s Board has to-date avoided responding publicly to the group’s criticism, the Board has been prompted to speak out as they are no longer restricted by confidentiality obligations. They also believe a more open discussion about the core issues related to the Greenlane facility’s closure is in the public interest.

Over the past decade, Government policies have shifted in response to the latest research evidence to support a more independent and tailored approach to services for disabled people. Disability policy is now firmly focused on self-determination and supporting people within their own home or community, rather than in a centralised facility. The recent launch of Whaikaha Ministry of Disabled People and funding policy announced in October 2021 will reform disability services, improve accessibility, and provide people with increased control over how their disability budget is spent.

Despite proceedings having been protracted by additional legal action, LFT Auckland’s Board remains positive about their plans to build on the Laura Fergusson legacy. The Board is optimistic the High Court will make a final decision on its future in early 2023.

“We are hopeful the Court will allow us to honour our proud legacy of supporting disabled people, in a way that reflects today’s view of disability and current disability policy. Following the hearing in March next year we hope to establish a disability-led entity, with a focus on sustainable initiatives that remove barriers and create new opportunities for disabled people,” O’Brien said.