Acas funding gap casts doubt on dispute resolution shake-up

Government proposals for greater use of mediation in resolving workplace disputes will fail unless arbitration service Acas receives more funding, employment experts have warned.

Last week a report by Michael Gibbons looking at improving employment dispute resolution recommended a “greatly increased role” for mediation, meaning additional work for the government-funded conciliation service Acas. Gibbons said he was encouraged by the success of mediation in civil disputes, and in employment disputes in the US and New Zealand.

Gibbons acknowledged that current Acas service was “effective and well regarded”, but warned that recent reductions in funding had “adversely affected” its level of involvement.

Acas has shed hundreds of staff over the past two years. And last year, the government announced the service’s budget would be slashed by 16% over three years.

Acas chairwoman Rita Donaghy admitted there would be “resource implications” if it was expected to play a bigger role.

“There is no doubt that if you reduce an organisation by almost 20% you will not be able to do everything you did before. If more is asked of us, we’ll need more resource,” she told Personnel Today.

But she ruled out holding a begging bowl to the government for extra money.

“We can’t just bleat about [lack of] cash, with the organisation going on about how broke it is,” she said.

Peter Schofield, director of employment and legal affairs at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, and a member of the Gibbons review panel, said: “Acas obviously needs more resources as it already has had to tailor the way it delivers its services because of reduced income and personnel.”

The review was prompted by strong criticism for both employers and unions of the current statutory dispute resolution regulations, introduced in October 2004.

In a thinly veiled warning to employers, Gibbons said: “I trust those parties who have so strongly opposed the current regulations will as willingly accept the challenges that a different style of regulation will bring about.”

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“I was struck by the consensus that the intentions of the 2004 regulations were sound and there was a genuine attempt to keep them simple. But they have had unintended consequences, which have outweighed their benefits.” Michael Gibbons, review chairman

“It will never be easy to persuade employers to go down the mediation route, as there has always been a mindset that a tribunal is the place to resolve disputes.” Peter Schofield, director of employment and legal affairs, EEF

“The challenge is to promote alternative dispute resolution techniques – including mediation – without creating counter-productive and time-wasting procedures that lack credibility.” Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser, CIPD

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