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R3 Annual Conference 2022: Back with a bang

R3 Annual Conference 2022: Back with a bang

28 June 2022

In May more than 300 members of the insolvency and restructuring profession descended on the Beaumont Estate in Windsor for R3’s first face-to-face Annual Conference since 2019.

With sessions covering everything from the future of the profession through to the merits of using restructuring plans in the mid-market, the 2022 Conference boasted a packed agenda – as well a range of networking opportunities which are a key part of any R3 event.

This blog takes a look at some of the highlights from a conference that was every bit as successful as previous R3 Annual Conferences have been.

The future of the profession

After a welcome from R3 President Christina Fitzgerald, the conference opened with a panel session that looked at the upcoming challenges and opportunities for the profession over the next 12 months.

This year the profession will work amidst a combination of economic, geopolitical and consumer issues that will affect its client base, as well as a potential overhaul of its regulatory framework and increased scrutiny of its work from policymakers and the media.

Our panel of senior members explored these issues, and looked at a number of other matters, including the effect of the new tools from the CIG Act, the merits and drawbacks of devolved legislation, and whether the post-pandemic debt hangover coupled with the present economic challenges will lead to a continued rise in insolvency numbers.

The key takeaway? Early engagement will be more crucial than ever – something which is good news for R3 as we look to continue our Back to Business campaign, which aims to improve understanding of this very issue.

How HMRC is evolving

Our first session on day one looked at how HMRC is evolving following the pandemic. With over £80bn owed to HMRC, and changes in processes, legislation and location, it’s an interesting time for the organisation – especially given the ongoing economic issues and their effect on the business community. 

One key takeaway from this session was just how much HMRC is investing in digital transformation, as it looks to reflect the increased demand for online services and support from its marketplace.

Given its (relatively) new status as a secondary preferential creditor in insolvencies, the profession’s engagement with HMRC is only likely to become more important as the year goes on – especially if the economic situation doesn’t improve.

Insights from the Bench

The next session on day one of the Conference provided a chance to hear the judiciary’s perspective on how the court process has been changed by the pandemic and the impact this will have on how litigation is conducted in future.

The reopening of the courts and the subsequent backlog from their closure has meant an increased workload for those working in the system. As a result, less complex work is likely to be removed from the judges’ purview – and one such example of this is the new £250k threshold at which ICC Judges will hear a bankruptcy hearing.

We’re also likely to see remote hearings – something which become commonplace during the latter half of the pandemic – remain, as more complex work from the regions is outsourced to London, where the majority of specialist judges reside.

An update from INSOL

Day two of the conference opened with a welcome from R3’s Vice President Nicky Fisher, who then introduced our next speaker: INSOL International President Scott Atkins, who provided an update on INSOL International, and the challenges his members are facing internationally post-pandemic.

Scott highlighted how INSOL and R3’s work overlapped in a number of key areas, most notably in the area of diversity and inclusion, highlighted INSOL’s key achievements throughout the last year – including an increase in membership in a number of key counties – and stated his desire to work as closely as possible with R3 in INSOL’s 40th anniversary year and beyond.

Insights into Restructuring Plans

The introduction of the Restructuring Plan was one of the most one of the most substantial legislative changes to the insolvency and restructuring framework over the last decade. However, take up of the tool has been slow following its introduction, but this is changing as it becomes better understood and precedents are being set for its use.

Our afternoon session on day one looked at Restructuring Plans in the mid-market. Using the examples of the Amicus and Pizza Express cases, our panel looked at how this tool could be used by household names and firms with a less high profile.

What was interesting to note from this session was that there is still a lack of understanding among these clients about the insolvency profession’s ability to provide this kind of support.

Clearly, a mindset shift is still needed if we’re going to encourage directors of these kind of firms to engage with the profession when their businesses are struggling but salvageable, rather than when the rescue options are fewer…

Help or hindrance?

Our first session on day three of the conference looked at the Commercial Rent Arrears Arbitration Scheme and whether it would achieve the aim of resolving rent disputes.

The feedback from the landlord community is that the Scheme was introduced too late to make a real difference as by the time the Act had passed, the majority of tenants having resolved their issues.

It was also interesting to note that, although there may be some benefits from the Scheme’s introduction, the Government’s well intended introduction of legislation into an area where which has traditionally been about communication between the two parties hasn’t always been helpful…

An update from the Insolvency Service

On the final day of the conference, Insolvency Service Chief Executive Dean Beale gave an overview of the Service’s five-year strategy, and an update on some of the major areas of work for the agency in the recent and coming months.

When answering questions from the audience on the regulation consultation, Dean acknowledged some of the concerns raised by the profession surrounding the single regulator and compensation scheme proposals.

But the good news is that the Service expects to publish its response to the consultation later in the summer, and that it will engage with the profession to discuss this further before the proposals are formally taken to Ministers.

Keynote Address: Faisal Islam

One of the conference’s highlights was the day three keynote address from BBC News Economics Editor Faisal Islam.

Faisal outlined the economic influences affecting the insolvency and restructuring community, and spoke about the current “extraordinary junction” of different factors, which have led to a cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking about potential challenges for the Government, Mr Islam said that a balance would have to be struck between tackling poverty and hunger, and avoiding recession.

He added that the support schemes established at the start of the pandemic may lead to greater expectation for Government intervention from the public in dealing with economic issues.

Whether that prediction comes true is something we’ll be keeping an eye on as the year continues – and may be something we revisit at next year’s Annual Conference.

Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s – our delegates, speakers, sponsors and members of the organising committee. It was great to be able to bring the profession back together, see how much everyone appreciated being able to attend and connect in-person, and learn more about the issues that are likely to affect insolvency and restructuring in the coming months…

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