Acas bullish about meeting new demand for mediation

Acas chief Ed Sweeney has insisted the service will rise to the challenge of growing demand from employers when the statutory dispute resolution procedures are scrapped next April.

The government last week announced an extra £37m funding for the arbitration and conciliation service over the next three years to make it better equipped to intervene early in workplace disputes.

The service has previously suffered budget and staffing cuts, but the government now wants Acas to offer more mediation in line with the recommendations from the Gibbons Review.

Sweeney told Personnel Today that Acas would recruit up to 50 more help­line staff – bolstering numbers by 50% – to prepare for the expected surge in calls when the law changes.

All employees would be trained to a set of minimum standards in mediation, he said.

“The helpline people will be providing advice as mediators, but much deeper guidance and advice will be needed than they currently offer. It’s a question of training the staff and upping our game,” Sweeney said.

He claimed Acas’s mediation service was “second to none”, because of its experience and independence.

But some mediation experts raised fears that employers would be tempted to set up their own in-house services to speed up the dispute process.

Nigel Youngman, director at HR consultancy Marshall-James, which offers workplace mediation, said: “Some companies train mediators on the cheap and the quality of in-house services falls.”

The Professional Mediators’ Association, which represents individuals, agreed there was a risk that employers could end up providing poor services, or be tempted to use “cowboy” mediators.

Chair David Liddle said: “What worries me is the cowboys in the industry I’m sure that people who aren’t very good at mediation may set themselves up to cash in on the growing trend.”

Liddle said he was working with the government to promote best practice, but ruled out the need to regulate the industry.

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