What is the current guidance relating to Private Finance Initiatives and PF2 Projects in light of coronavirus?
On 2 April 2020, the Government issued guidance relating to Private Finance Initiatives and PF2 Projects. The guidance, which is to be enforced with immediate effect (currently due to stay in place until 30 June 2020), is one of several guidance notes issued to date.
A link to the guidance is set out below:
Key messages to contracting authorities
- PFI contractors should very much consider themselves as being part of the public sector response to the current pandemic
- Covid-19 is not regarded as, and is not to be classified as a force majeure event
- PFI contractors must ensure that contingency plans are up to date and have been reviewed and discussed with contracting authorities to enable the continuity of full services to respond to the pandemic and maintain vital public services
- Contracting authorities should work closely with PFI contractors to use all available options to maintain public services during the emergency period
- Local arrangements should be made where PFI contractors can’t deliver the agreed requirements and performance standards
- “Best efforts” should be made by all parties for the continuation of service provision
Where it is envisaged that 20 or more employees will be dismissed at a relevant establishment within a 90 day period or less, then collective consultation is required (in addition to individual consultation) and the company must inform BEIS (using form HR1).
If there are less than 20 dismissals then you are only required to carry out individual consultation.
Remote mediations have become increasingly popular as a way of settling a dispute before it goes to court. There are a number of ways in which you can mediate remotely, but the most common platform is Zoom, due to its easy-to-use nature and the ability to have ‘break-out rooms’. We have answered some FAQs and set out a quick guide to remote mediations below.
What is remote mediation?
- Mediation is a form of assisted negotiation, in which a neutral 3rd party mediator seeks to help the parties resolve their dispute. The process on the day is managed by the mediator and adopts certain key ground-rules. These are that discussions are private and cannot be referred to in court; and the process is entirely voluntary and non-binding, if and until a settlement is finalised. In the current pandemic mediations are now usually conducted remotely by video conference, instead of an in-person meeting.
- The structure of the mediation will depend on the matters that are in dispute. Before the mediation the parties will exchange their views in position papers and prepare a bundle of the key documents.
- Generally the parties will start the mediation in the same ‘room’ as the mediator, where they will be invited to set out their positions. The mediator will then put the parties into ‘break-out rooms’. These rooms serve as your own private ‘room’ which the mediator will join. You will therefore be able to have private discussions with the mediator without the other side being able to hear those discussions. The mediator will go between the ‘break-out rooms’ to discuss a party’s position further in order to attempt to reach a settlement.
- If an agreement is reached, at the end of the mediation the Settlement Agreement will be drafted. The Settlement Agreement works as an enforceable contract. The Settlement Agreement will outline the details of what has been agreed and the intentions of the parties, such as any actions required, payments to be made and appropriate timescales. Each party will sign the Settlement Agreement, which can be done electronically.
- It is not always possible to reach a resolution/agreement by mediation, but the mediator serves as an impartial third party in order to aid the process. If no agreement has been reached, the mediation may still prove useful as it will give you a better understanding of the other side’s position.
What should I do before the mediation to prepare?
- Ensure that you are in an area with minimal distractions. Mediation is a confidential process, so make sure that you are in a private location.
- Ensure that your microphone and camera work and that you have access to the online platform that will be used. We send our clients a link to the website in advance so that this can be tested out.
- Consider any agreed dress code and dress appropriately.
- Have a copy of the mediation bundle to hand, whether in hard or soft copy, and be aware of what documents are in there.
Any tips on what to do on the day?
- Remember to make sure that before you have any private conversations with the mediator you are in your break-out room.
- You may contact the mediator whilst being in the break-out room. On Zoom there is an ‘Ask for Help’ button on the screen. The mediator will then be prompted to join your room.
- Ensure that you inform the mediator if you or others enter/leave the room. It is important that the mediator knows who is present.
- Be mindful of body language and facial expressions as these can appear more enhanced on the screen, and they are easier to pick up in a remote mediation.
- Stay calm and focussed at all times. When you have a dispute it is sometimes tricky to maintain a calm manner, but this is always vital in attempting to reach an agreement.
- When engaging with the mediator avoid any external distractions such as text messages and emails, as it may come across that you are not interested in the process. It is important to pay attention so that you do not miss any dialogue which may be key to any agreement that is reached.
- When you are in the break-out room without the mediator make sure that you take breaks and keep refreshed, as virtual mediations can be tiring.
We hope that all organisations will come out of lockdown successfully. However, the current economic crisis means that many organisations will face very difficult trading conditions.
Employment costs are one of, if not the, largest cost to your organisation. These costs will have an effect on your financial well-being – and many organisations are now considering how to reduce employment costs. That said, your workforce is also your most important asset and as we get back to business, you will need your workforce to run the organisation, produce your goods, deliver your services and deal with your customers.
As a result, many organisations are facing a very difficult situation – how to reduce or flex the cost of the workforce whilst also maintaining an ability to service customers. This difficulty is enhanced by the uncertainty of when the pandemic will be controlled and the threat of lockdowns end.
Due to the new guidance on social distancing and remote working, the Planning Inspectorate initially stated that site visits, hearings and inquiries would be cancelled. However, there is very much a push from the Secretary of State to keep the planning system moving notwithstanding the requirements to adapt to new ways of working. The Government now expects all hearings to be conducted virtually and where a virtual hearing is not possible, the expectation is that alternative arrangements will be put “speedily” in place and in accordance with social distancing requirements.
The Planning Inspectorate have been exploring ways of conducting hearings and inquiries remotely using technological means and conducted their first “digital” hearing on 11 May .
The Business and Planning Act 2020, which entered the statute books on 22 July 2020, includes provisions which allow more flexibility in relation to how appeals are determined including an ability for the Secretary of State to decide to adopt a procedure which is a combination of written representations, a hearing and/or an inquiry.
Site visits have re-commenced where it is safe to do so. The Inspectorate is looking at whether a site visit is necessary and has conducted a trial of “virtual site visits” where sites are assessed by means of photographs or video evidence.
The Planning Inspectorate have subsequently been scaling up conducting digital hearings, which also includes holding virtual local plan examination hearings.
The Government has introduced legislation to expand the list of those who can register deaths to include Funeral Directors who are dealing with the funeral arrangements and who has been authorised by a relative of the deceased to register the death. Also, the medical cause of death certificate can be emailed to the Registrar’s office and arrangements made to have a telephone appointment to provide the Registrar with information to register the death. The requirement to attend the Registrar in person to sign the Register has been relaxed so that this is not necessary. It will however still be necessary to register the death within 5 days.