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The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) is a Crown non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom. Its purpose is to improve organisations and working life through the promotion and facilitation of strong industrial relations practice. It may do this through a number of media such as arbitration or mediation, although the service is perhaps best known for its collective conciliation function - that is resolving disputes between groups of employees or workers, often represented by a trade union, and their employers. Acas is an independent and impartial organisation that does not side with a particular party, but rather will help the parties to reach suitable resolutions in a dispute.
Today, the employment world has mostly moved away from large-scale industrial disputes that characterised the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, when Acas became a household name. Accordingly, Acas' emphasis has shifted towards helping businesses to prevent problems before they arise, by means of, for example, its telephone helpline and training sessions. Furthermore much of Acas conciliation work is now focused on individual complaints to an Employment Tribunal (i.e. where individuals claim their employer has denied them a legal right).
The service's roots lie in 1896 when the government launched a voluntary conciliation and arbitration service, which also gave free advice to employers and unions on industrial relations and personnel problems. There was a name change in 1960, to Industrial Relations Services, and again in 1972 to Conciliation and Advisory Service. Up to this point in its history the service remained firmly under the Government's wing. In 1974, the service was renamed the Conciliation and Arbitration Service and separated from government control, with an independent Council to direct it. 'Advisory' was added to its name in 1975 to reflect its full range of services, then finally in 1976 Acas was made a statutory body by the Employment Protection Act 1975.
In 2010, there was speculation that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government's plans to reduce the number of Quangos might threaten Acas, but the organisation survived the cuts.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, laid in Parliament in May 2012, contained a number of proposed employment law changes, including the introduction from April 2014 of a new 'Early Conciliation' service under which all claims relating to alleged infringements of individual employment rights will come to Acas in the first instance, rather than the Tribunals Service. Acas will then have a short window of opportunity (up to a month) to try to help to resolve the issue before the needs to apply to a Tribunal.
Although largely funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Acas is a non-departmental body, governed by an independent Council which is responsible for determining Acas' strategic direction, policies and priorities, and ensuring its statutory duties are carried out effectively. This allows the service to be independent, impartial and confidential. The Council consists of the Chair and eleven employer, trade union and independent members, appointed by the Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills. Acas' current Chair is Sir Brendan Barber, former General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress. Sir Brendan replaced the former Amicus Deputy General Secretary Ed Sweeney as Chair in 2014.
Acas' day-to-day operations are managed by its Chief Executive and a management board that includes its national and regional directors. Acas' current Chief Executive, Anne Sharp, was appointed in January 2013, replacing John Taylor, who had been in post since 2001. Acas has around 800 staff, based in its London head office and 11 main regional centres across England, Scotland and Wales. Acas' chief conciliator is Peter Harwood.
List of Chairs
- 1974: Jim Mortimer
- 1981: Pat Lowry
- 1987: Douglas Smith
- 1993: John Hougham
- 2000: Rita Donaghy
- 2007: Ed Sweeney
- 2014: Brendan Barber
- Porter, Andrew (24 September 2010). "Quango cuts: 177 bodies to be scrapped under coalition plans". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
- Quinn, Carolyn (8 November 2010). "Behind the scenes with Acas". BBC News. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
- "Big shot: Anne Sharp". The Times. 14 November 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- Acas.org.uk, the service's official website.
- @acasorguk, follow Acas on Twitter.
- Acas.org.uk/researchpapers, a range of in-depth evaluations of Acas services and reports which contribute to wider employment relations debates.
- bis.gov.uk, the website of Acas' funding department, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
- employmenttribunals.gov.uk, the website of the Employment Tribunals Service