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Susan Clews: Early Conciliation - business as usual

Monday 30 November 2015

Acas' new Director of Operations talks about a breakfast seminar held last week which invited views on experiences of Early Conciliation and its future direction.

Susan Clews

Susan Clews

Susan Clews has been Acas Chief Operations Officer since August 2015. Susan joined Acas in 1993 where she did a variety of operational delivery roles until becoming Regional Director for the North West in 2003. Between 2009 and 2015 Susan was Acas Director of Strategy.

Last week Acas held a breakfast seminar to talk about the first 18 months of Early Conciliation (EC), and to explore with partners and customers what has happened; what we have seen change; and what we can learn from the introductory period.

Although I am relatively new to the role of Director of Operations, as part of the Acas senior team I was involved in the introduction of Early Conciliation in April 2014. In the session, we heard how the service has bedded in, how we have handled higher volumes in the first half of the year (Conciliation Update: April 2015 - September 2015), and the positive feedback from users which came through in the recent pdf icon Evaluation of Acas Early Conciliation 2015 [2Mb] .

Of course, among the many positive messages were a small number of issues raised by customers who have first-hand experience of the service. There is always room for improvement, and we are following up with people who are working with Acas conciliators on cases on a day-to-day basis about how we can respond best to their needs.

A few things that I took away from the event were the positive improvements since introduction of EC in levels of consistency across the service and the ability of conciliators to get the right information from the claimant to the respondent in a timely fashion.

There was also some discussion around the need to better inform people about their options before they reach the stage where they might be considering Acas conciliation. A large part of our work is in helping individuals and employers to avoid conflict in the first place - with good practice guidance, tools and online support available from our website. Sometimes we are contacted by people who are not at the stage where they would or could proceed to an Employment Tribunal - and who would be perhaps best supported by our Helpline and online tools instead.

Early Conciliation is one step in a longer process. We continue to offer our conciliation services to both parties up to, and after an Employment Tribunal claim has been lodged, and if necessary until the day of an Employment Tribunal hearing.

The conversation also explored some options for future planning. For example, we invited views on the potential for and challenges of online dispute resolution. It was clear that having a conciliator involved at an early stage was valued - as often when claimants come to Acas emotions are raw, and an experienced and empathetic conciliator is needed to cool the emotions and draw out the facts. That said, there was broad interest in looking at how digital tools can support conciliation, and the need to consult widely on what this might look like.

The service has very much become 'Business As Usual' for Acas,  and we will continue to listen to stakeholders and customers, claimants and respondents about their experiences, and what we can do to further improve the offer for them. If you would like to get in touch and feed in your views, please do so.

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