The RSPCA is in "complete chaos" after council members threw out proposals by the new director-general to restructure its regional operations in a desperate bid to save £8 million by the end of 2004.
Four council members have already resigned over moves by Jackie Ballard, a former Liberal Democrat MP who was appointed as director-general last September, to slash local operations from 10 down to four regional divisions.
"The new director-general fails to understand that the most important work of the RSPCA is done from dirty back gardens," said Angela Walder, an ex-council member, who quit recently over the proposed cuts. "Maybe if we hadn't spent millions on fancy headquarters and had spent a little more on protecting our grass-roots welfare work, we wouldn't be in such complete chaos."
At a meeting on 30 April, the council voted 12-8 against proposals to reform the existing regional structure, which is made up of 10 separate divisions with individual management structures.
But at the same meeting, council members voted in favour of proposals to radically reform the RSPCA's head office, which will lead to the axing of around 15 heads of departments.
The head office restructuring had been designed to run alongside sweeping regional reforms and was almost a token gesture to the council to show that the directors were also prepared to make sacrifices at the centre for the good of the charity.
A head office source, who asked not to be named, said the head office restructuring would save "a fraction" of what was needed to restore the charity's finances.
"The council is heavily weighted in favour of the regions and its decision has effectively undermined the people involved in the day-to-day running of the charity in order to protect local and individual interests," said the source. "It's madness that the cumbersome regional structure will remain the same but half the amount of people are supposed to run a multi-million pound charity which is facing severe problems."
As a result of the vote, seven management divisions will merge, including press and publications, fundraising and enquiries and education and support.
"How the council, which has no qualifications to manage affairs other than having RSPCA membership, continues to ignore moves by the directors to pull the charity out of this mess just sums up the very real problems we face," said the source. "I don't know where they think the £8 million will come from."
The charity, which has an annual income of around £70 million, has suffered from years of infighting and financial worries.
Ballard has described her first six months as a "baptism of fire" after facing serious opposition from the press and the council over her forthright views on animal campaigning.
She has now been instructed by the council to come up with new ideas about how to save the £8 million that will not affect the existing structure of the charity.
Ballard was unavailable for comment on the council division.