Dispute resolution platform Escalate expands regional presence

Dispute resolution platform Escalate expands regional presence

PKF Francis Clark and Armstrong Watson have joined Escalate, a commercial dispute resolution platform for SMEs that has been shortlisted for the British Accountancy Awards

Accountancy firms PKF Francis Clark and Armstrong Watson have become the latest businesses to join Escalate, a commercial dispute resolution platform for SMEs that has been shortlisted for the British Accountancy Awards.

With the participation of these two firms, Escalate has strengthened it’s on-the-ground national presence to optimise support for SMEs.

Chris Clay, one of the architects of the Escalate platform, said: “Both PKF Francis Clark and Armstrong Watson are recognised as leaders in their geographic markets, and bringing them on board is part of our strategy of building a network of best-in-class regional partners to provide cost-effective access to justice for SMEs across the country.”

Commercial disputes are an issue encountered by 70% of small businesses, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). The FSB estimates that there were at least 3.4m commercial disputes involving SMEs between 2010 and 2015 and that small firms spend £11.6bn annually on disputes.

Despite their prevalence, Clay explains that “the traditional dispute resolution model is broken and heavily stacked against claimants.”

The current process incentivises the defendant to draw out the process to be as lengthy and costly for the claimant as possible, in hopes they will give up their case. The process can end up stretching up to 18 months, with the claimant racking up vast legal bills. The claimant may also be liable to pay for the defendant’s legal fees should they lose the case.

Escalate aims to simplify the currently costly, risky and time-consuming dispute resolution process for SMEs. In a two step-process, licenced corporate recovery specialists will first focus on resolving disputes without litigation through a maximum three-month negotiation period and should this fail, solicitors will then turn to litigation.

The process minimises costs through fixed fees that are only payable if the outcome is successful, and all fees are paid on the client’s behalf all the way up to a High Court resolution. There is also a cap on costs to ensure the claimant is always the main beneficiary.

Paul Dickson, managing partner of Armstrong Watson, said: “Escalate is a game-changer both for us and our clients.  It has made dispute resolution an ‘accountancy-led’ service, helping the profession to develop a new advisory service to combat the technology-led revenue profile change away from audit and compliance.”

Dickson explains that Escalate offers proactive advice and solutions, such as enabling clients to “release cash that is locked up in unresolved disputes” so businesses’ cash flow is not hampered by the dispute process.

Commenting on the programme’s growth ambitions, Clay said: “Our national network, which we’ll continue to expand, provides us with the platform we need for the next phase of our growth plans.  This involves partnering with the lending community and membership bodies to integrate Escalate into their packages of lender protection services and value-added member benefits respectively.”

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