There’s never a dull moment at betting and gaming company Gala Coral, says head of HR Lawrence Tingey. With 10,000 employees in Coral Retail, of which 8,500 work in more than 1,800 retail outlets, the third largest bookmaker in the UK has an estimated 21% market share and is the fastest growing of the top three UK operators.
Then there’s the much awaited £2 billion merger with fellow betting giant Ladbrokes, with both parties awaiting a decision by the Competition and Markets Authority. Planning HR investment for the year with this uncertainty hanging over your head is not easy.
With all this to manage, the last thing Tingey needs is to worry about one of his employee relations (ER) team calling up expensive City lawyers to sense check an employment law issue, and landing him with an unexpected costly bill.
Enter HR Legal Service, provided by HR magazine’s employment law partner ESP Law. Coral has been using the service for a couple of years and Tingey has been impressed.
“I like the cost efficiencies that come with the service,” he says. “For example, we have unlimited over-the-phone advice across the year, which is so much better than the hourly rates of some employment law firms.
“Then there is the accessibility piece. ESP is seen as a business partner by our ER team. In a business like ours there can be a big volume of cases and the ER team knows it can just pick up the phone and ask, ‘can I just sense check this’ when it comes to some thorny issues. But even if it feels like a straight-forward case, there is the added reassurance that comes from checking it out, just in case.
“Finally, they really understand our business. In a gambling and retail business there is lots of legislation, especially in gaming, so taking time to know how the business works and the issues we face is vital.”
It’s a far cry from the more traditional legal providers Tingey has worked with in the past. Not only can he keep control of his costs via the fixed fee subscription, but the ER team gets a personal service, he says.
Each member of the team has two people who are their point of contact, so they are able to build up a strong relationship. It’s like having an in-house team, he adds.
He concedes there could be areas that require the use of a more traditional City law firm, but says he has not come across anything yet that has necessitated this. In any case, ESP can call upon one of its ‘buddy’ law firms in such situations.
Perhaps one of the overlooked benefits of using a fixed subscription model like that offered by HR Legal Service is the impact on other areas of HR, in particular more strategic areas.
“I’m starting to spend more money on learning and development. If our legal bill was two to three times more expensive, it would have eaten into this and learning and development and recruitment would have suffered,” Tingey points out.
“For other companies, expensive legal costs could have an impact on areas such as benefits, for example driving the need to get more economies out of healthcare. This could have a detrimental impact on the business, both in terms of productivity and reputation.”
It seems that for Coral, at least, this new model of employment law provision will be odds on favourite for a while yet.