Mediation for Local Authorities

Daniel Wild Articles

From filling in potholes to managing housing and beyond, local authorities play a crucial role in our day-to-day lives. And, given that local authorities have a hand in running the some of the most important aspects of our lives, it’s no surprise that they have to deal with a wide range of disputes.

Beyond this, the fact that local authorities are also workplaces like any other means that some form of dispute arising is simply inevitable!

So what sort of disputes are local authorities dealing with?

Workplace disputes between colleagues
Workplace disputes make up the bread and butter of most mediation providers’ work, and occur for a host of reasons. Whether due to conflicting personalities, allegations of bullying and harassment, or a simple office spat, workplace disputes cost the average council £200,000 over a three-year period[1].

Local authorities are responsible for the smooth running of communities, so any conflict that could distract from this demanding work needs solving as quickly and efficiently as possible. Mediation has a proven track record in effectively solving workplace disputes: conflicts solved through mediation cost less than alternative methods, freeing up some of that £200,000 for use elsewhere!

Neighbourhood conflicts between members of the public
Sometimes neighbours don’t get on. This has been a fact of life ever since the second family of Neanderthals moved into a cave next to the first lot and started loudly hunting woolly mammoths at all hours! If not effectively addressed, disputes between neighbours can quickly escalate into something nasty.

Though there are other methods of dealing with neighbourhood disputes such as calling the police or going on daytime TV, these methods tend to irretrievably damage relationships between neighbours – nothing says ‘point of no return’ quite like your neighbour calling the police on you! Alternatively, by using mediation, local authorities can solve neighbourhood disputes quickly and find mutually amicable solutions for everyone involved.

Preventing disputes that could lead to homelessness
This is a key area for local authorities and the focus of one of our previous webinars. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 requires local authorities to provide a range of services to people at risk of homelessness. Mediation forms a crucial part of this support.

People frequently become homeless because of a breakdown in relationships with family members, landlords, or significant others. Official statistics state that relationship breakdown causes 59% of youth homelessness in Scotland[2]. Mediation helps rebuild these relationships, and brings about conditions and agreements that help those at risk to continue living in their homes.

Complaints made against a local authority
These disputes can arise in a variety of contexts and can do serious damage to the relationship between residents and the local authority. In 2016, the Ombudsman for Local Government and Social Care received 16,500[3] complaints about local councils – mediation early in the grievance process could have reduced this figure. Local authorities have a responsibility to make sure that complaints raised against them are properly resolved.

Mediation encourages understanding and compromise in these situations: the presence of an impartial mediator can ensure that both parties in disputes such as these feel heard and understood throughout the process.

As you can see, it’s clear that local authorities have a wide variety of disputes to deal with and that mediation can play a role in solving them.

But how does mediation work, and why is it effective?

Releasing tension
Mediation provides an opportunity for participants to get together and shed any anger and frustration that may have built up throughout the conflict. The presence of an experienced facilitator in a controlled environment means that this is also done in a fair and non-damaging way. This is often a key step in getting parties ready to work productively together, as issues that had previously prevented them from doing so are addressed.

Understanding impact
Many disputes are caused by a lack of awareness or empathy for the situations of others. Mediation helps by allowing all participants to share their side of the story, as well as their thoughts and feelings. This lets participants begin to build constructive and future-focused dialogue, with the mediator making sure that it’s done in a non-persecutory and blameless way.

“Re-framing”
Re-framing is a useful skill throughout the mediation process and is effective in keeping mediation moving forwards in a constructive way. It is used to lessen the resistance and hostility felt by a disputing party in response to what the other party says, effectively shifting their mindset without the mediator actively weighing in.

Re-framing aims to:

  • Switches the focus from past to future
  • Moves away from blame, instead focussing on people’s responsibility
  • Helps people leave entrenched positions and consider their underlying interests

UK Mediation has been delivering expertise and training to local authorities for over 20 years, and we hope to see a continued rise in local authorities putting mediation to use.

Watch our free webinar on this application of mediation here.

[1] ‘Workplace disputes cost the average UK council nearly £200,000 over the past three years’, CIPHR, 2019.

[2] ‘Statistics and reports’, Scottish Conflict Resolution, 2019.

[3] ‘Ombudsman releases complaints statistics for all local authorities’, Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman, 2017.