Union accuses RSPCA of an 'abject failure of leadership' over restructure

Responding to claims from Unite, the charity says the changes it is making are essential to ensuring the RSPCA's future

The RSPCA's head office
The RSPCA's head office

The UK's largest union has accused the RSPCA of an “uncaring and blinkered” approach and an “abject failure of leadership” in its handling of the charity's redundancy consultation process.

Earlier this week, the animal welfare charity confirmed it would be cutting 269 jobs as part of a restructure accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic following a consultation period with staff and the union Unite. 

The animal welfare charity, which employs more than 1,600 people, said in June it proposed making up to 300 people redundant amid concerns it would record losses of up to £47m over the next three years.  

It said it had been reviewing all of its activities as part of a new 10-year strategy, but the need for change had been hastened due to the effects of Covid-19. 

But in a newsletter to members, Unite said the consultation had been “anything but” meaningful, something the RSPCA has disputed.

The newsletter said the union acknowledged that all organisations, including the RSPCA, needed to evolve, and it was not opposed to such change. 

But, the newsletter said: “Unite is opposed to change that is based on poor data and weak analysis, resulting in flawed justifications to remove almost 300 people’s livelihoods and make some or our colleagues homeless.”

The newsletter called for the charity to use its reserves to deal with the crisis caused by the pandemic, and said the fact that neither digging into reserves nor voluntary redundancies had been considered was “quite frankly... an abject failure of leadership” and symptomatic of the charity’s “blinkered and uncaring approach”. 

Unite has previously accused the RSPCA of using the pandemic as an excuse to push ahead with pre-existing plans to sack workers over changes to contracts, although this was strongly rejected by the charity.  

The newsletter compared the most recent consultation with the previous negotiations over contracts, saying both had involved a “bullying” approach, and went on to say that much of the consultation had not been “coherent and rational”.

The restructure plans will also include the closure of four animal care centres. The newsletter claimed that two of these centres had put forward “coherent and viable” alternative operating models, and the union alleged that the fact that these plans were not taken up demonstrated that the closures were “based on the realisation of land values”.

The newsletter was accompanied by a series of comments from union members at the charity, criticising the charity’s leadership, handling of the process and treatment of staff, which one person described as “a slap in the face”.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: “These changes are being made out of absolute necessity to safeguard the future of the RSPCA.”

She said the consultation had been “thorough and meaningful consultation” and counter proposals put forward by staff had resulted in 31 roles being saved “two thirds of which are frontline staff, at a cost of £1.2m to the society”.

She said the decisions had been“very difficult” but that the pace of change had been critical and each month of delay would cost the RSPCA £1m. 

She said alternative models put forward by rescue centres would not have delivered the urgent cost savings needed and that there had been “important disadvantages” to the proposal for voluntary redundancies. 

And, she said, using up reserves would “not only be against clear best practice guidance of the Charity Commission, it would leave the RSPCA in an incredibly precarious and unsustainable position”. 

She said: “It is disappointing the union has felt unable to formally support these changes which we believe are essential to securing the future of the RSPCA, but we cannot lose sight of the financial challenges that the organisation faces and the urgent need to reduce our structural deficit.”


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