Several senior executives are leaving the RSPCA as its chief executive Chris Sherwood comes under renewed attack from the trade union Unite over the management of the charity’s redundancy process.
Following deputy chief executive Chris Wainwright out of the door are finance, IT and planning director Kevin O’Brien and group finance controller Helen Tracey, as well as external consultant Patricia Williamson.
Wainwright has taken the chief executive role at the equine welfare charity Brooke. He is due to start there in November after nearly five years at the RSPCA, where he also oversees communications, external affairs and income-generation.
Finance chief O’Brien was hired just before the coronavirus outbreak, while his direct report Tracey joined as head of finance in 2013.
The RSPCA’s finances have become a flashpoint with Unite. The union is unhappy that the charity is not making greater use of its reserves – which the union puts at about £60m – to lighten the impact of its redundancy programme on staff.
The union claimed yesterday the programme had generated “chaos and confusion” and called on the RSPCA chief executive “to reflect on the lack of staff confidence in him”, which it claimed was illustrated by the senior departures.
An RSPCA spokeswoman took issue with Unite's characterisation of the departures, saying that one of them was due to redundancy, two to resignations and one to the end of a contract.
“The departures of Chris, Patricia, Helen and Kevin are entirely unrelated to the restructure and the decisions taken and the timing is because they have remained to help see us through this difficult period,” she said.
The charity announced last month it would be making 269 job cuts.
It blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the need to accelerate plans it already had to make changes affecting its more than 1,600 employees.
Unite has published the contents of a letter to Sherwood from Siobhan Endean, its national officer for the not-for-profit sector, which said: “The redundancy consultation process is leading to chaos and confusion. The individual consultation process has been rushed, poorly co-ordinated and poorly resourced.
“The whole process has effectively collapsed. The human resources division has admitted to being in a catastrophic situation due to unachievable timescales and unreasonable demands.”
The RSPCA issued a statement saying it “did not recognise the inaccurate picture painted by Unite as resembling the reality of the situation”.
It said: “These changes are being made out of absolute necessity to safeguard the future of the RSPCA. This was a thorough and meaningful consultation carried out by the executive team and overseen by trustees.
“The pace of these changes has been critical as the RSPCA needs to quickly reduce its structural deficit in order to be in a better place to tackle the challenges ahead. Each month of delay costs the RSPCA £1m.”
It said if it did nothing, its free reserves – which it was using to fund its deficit this year – could fall to the equivalent of about three months’ running costs, which would leave it in an “incredibly precarious and unsustainable position”.
It said: “Like many other charities we are facing severe financial difficulties. We already had a sizeable deficit, which we were working hard to reduce, before the Covid pandemic struck, which has exacerbated an already challenging financial picture.”