Jobs at risk at RNIB after commercial venture struggles

RNIB Solutions, which was set up by the charity in 2013, made a loss of £4.2m in 2016/17

RNIB offices in London
RNIB offices in London

More than 50 jobs are at risk at the RNIB after a division set up by the charity to eliminate its deficit required a £10m subsidy over three years.

A business case document seen by Third Sector shows that at least 52 jobs could be at risk and a number of other staff could have their hours reduced after the charity was forced to subsidise RNIB Solutions, a directorate set up by the charity in 2013 to generate income and provide services such as talking books and a Braille library.

An RNIB spokesman told Third Sector the document was an internal consultation document that had been given to staff who might be affected and that the charity hoped the difficult decisions could be made in the most sensitive and respectful way possible.

According to the document, Solutions, a division of the charity which has 261 staff members, was set up to eliminate the charity’s deficit, but in 2016/17 it spent £16.6m against an income of £12.4m - leaving a loss of £4.2m.

"This was not an anomaly in a single year; similar levels of deficit were delivered during the previous year (2015/16) and are expected to be delivered during the current year (2017/18)," the document says.

"In total Solutions will have consumed circa £10m of charity subsidy over a three-year period. This has contributed to RNIB as a whole also running significant deficits over the last three years."

According to information available on the Charity Commission website, RNIB as a whole has run at a deficit for four of its last five financial years. For the year ending 31 March 2016, it had an income of £114.5m but spent £123.1m. 

The average monthly number of employees at the whole charity during the year to March 2017 was 2,321, according to the RNIB spokesman.

The document says the main reason for Solutions' deficit was the high and rising cost of providing its services.

It also says the charity had initially expected Solutions’ commercial services, such as commercial transcription, consultancy and training to cover the cost of all of its services and deliver a surplus for the charity, but this had not been the case - the commercial activities had generated £1m, but the cost of running it had been £5m.

Many of the services are "highly complex, very manual, built on outdated or unstable infrastructure and are neither efficient nor scalable", causing problems resulting in frequent customer complaints, according to the document.

"A lot of our resources and energy are being spent each week fire fighting and dealing with the latest issue or problem," it says.

The document calls for Solutions to reduce its costs and find more efficient ways to provide its services - including through restructuring its teams.

It lists 52 jobs that are at risk of being cut, plus some workers in seven different areas could also have their hours reduced. The document also lists the creation of 36.75 full-time equivalent roles.

An additional 19 full-time equivalent roles as transcription production assistant are listed under new jobs - but this role is also listed in the changed roles, where it shows the number of roles has actually been reduced from 21.72 FTE.

The RNIB spokesman said: "This is an internal consultation document for those affected and as such it would be inappropriate, and disrespectful to those directly concerned, for us to disclose its details to those outside of the organisation. A number of staff have been placed at risk of redundancy with every effort made to ensure job losses are minimal and people are redeployed where appropriate."

Third Sector reported in February that up to 200 jobs were at risk at RNIB, according to unions. 

The RNIB spokesman told Third Sector today that in that round of job cuts, 30 people had been made redundant and a further 70 had taken voluntary redundancy.

"Sadly, there were job losses," he said. "We worked closely with the unions to ensure that the jobs losses were minimal and that people were redeployed where appropriate.

"Like any charity we have to make careful decisions to ensure our long-term sustainability. These are challenging times and we have to keep a careful watch of where we are spending our money to make the most of the resources we have."

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