A MEDIATION service aimed at avoiding small businesses going through costly tribunals has been launched across the region including Trafford.

The Manchester Mediation Network was launched last week after having initially started as a government pilot project funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in 2012.

The new service, which is based at Manchester Metropolitan University business school, will work with firms to prevent workplace disputes before a tribunal situation arises.

The network is currently supporting the PMA (Professional Mediators’ Association), to establish a North West hub, the first outside London

The average unfair dismissal awards last year cost firms £10,127, while tribunals can cripple those businesses who also lack the time and skills to successfully defend an allegation in the courts with legal fees often running into the tens of thousands of pounds.

The latest service has won the backing for the Federation of Small Businesses.

The FSB’s regional vice chairman, Holly Bonfield, was one of 20 volunteers to train as a mediator through the pilot, and its members can now access free mediation sessions through the network.

She said: “A mediated solution would, in most cases, lead to a far swifter, less costly outcome for all concerned.

“While most businesses are familiar with internal ‘grievance’ procedures, the majority don’t know about the alternatives such as mediation and resolution policies, and are naturally wary of new practices. This has to change and mediation needs to become more mainstream."

David Liddle, president of the Professional Mediators Association added: “Mediation is used successfully in many areas outside of business to resolve problems. The barriers to mediation are cultural, societal, and organisational, and change will take time. Employers and employees alike need to be aware that mediation is simply an alternative form of dispute resolution not a disciplinary tool.”