Compact in action: The Compact Mediation Scheme

A neutral mediation service is designed to help charities talk their way out of trouble.

The Compact states: "Mediation may be a useful way to try to reach agreement." A little-known service based within the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution enables charities to pursue this option.

The Compact Mediation Scheme was established in 2003 to try to resolve issues by talking. Home Office-funded, the scheme was set up as part of the Government's attempt to establish alternative dispute-resolution procedures and avoid litigation.

It operates on the principle that both parties work with a neutral mediator to reach a mutually agreed solution. The protagonists, who agree to share the costs of the service beforehand, take it in turns to present their arguments to a mediator.

Mediators are appointed by an organisation called CEDR Solve and are drawn from a range of backgrounds, including the voluntary and public sectors, the legal profession and business.

It is not the mediator's task to decide the outcome; he or she merely facilitates discussions with the aim of helping both parties to reach a mutually acceptable decision. The cost of the service can deter small charities in particular from using it. Andy Rogers, communications manager for the scheme, says costs range from "the low hundreds of pounds to a few thousand". Usually, they are at the lower end of the scale because about 75 per cent of cases are settled in one day, he says.

"Providing people come to mediation with an open mind, it is certainly possible to resolve disputes on the day," says Rogers. "Agreements stand up over long periods if both sides have bought into the decision."

The cost of the service has to be offset against the financial problems Compact disputes can create, as well as wider considerations, such as delays in delivering a service, low morale and ill feeling.

Many charities are unaware of the project. "Recently we haven't seen much traffic come through the scheme," says Rogers. "It has never been inundated, but a few disputes were settled through it in its early days."

John Stoker, the Compact commissioner, supports the scheme. "Mediation can be effective in resolving many types of disputes, and we would encourage charities to explore its possibilities," he says.

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