Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Enquiry into the RSPCA? - Part 1: Governance

The boring bit:

Who decides what the Society does?

The RSPCA is effectively a "family" of charities.

Firstly, there is the central RSPCA which determines major policy directions, runs the inspectorate, initiates prosecutions and provides facilities which are intended for use on a regional/national basis.

Secondly, there are 166 local branches (together covering England and Wales) which provide welfare services to their local area. This number varies from year to year as branches may split or merge.

When the RSPCA originally grew up, the purpose of a branch was to raise funds to pay the salary of their own local inspector.

Today the inspectors are paid for by the central RSPCA, but the branches are still expected to provide support services to enable the inspectors to function. Usually this consists of a combination of rehoming (for animals taken in by inspectors) and veterinary provision (to prevent some of the neglect which makes cruelty prosecutions necessary). They receive a yearly grant from the central RSPCA, currently about £20,000.

Branches are run by committees composed of unpaid RSPCA members who have been elected by other branch members at an Annual General Meeting. Committee members usually do a substantial amount of practical work keeping the branch going as well as coming together to make decisions about activities such as fundraising. They may employ some paid staff, especially if the branch has an animal home which needs full-time workers on the spot all day.

The Central RSPCA is governed by a Council of 25 unpaid trustees who meet together to decide policy directions and are responsible for decisions about employment of the most senior staff.

Collectively, the branches elect Regional Representatives to the Central RSPCA's governing Council. There are ten Regional Representatives, each elected by a group of branches.

The RSPCA membership as a whole elect the other 15 Council members by postal vote, with 5 council members retiring and standing for re-election each year.

What an enquiry might comment

The division between Council members elected by the whole membership and those elected by the branches introduces checks and balances which are probably useful because it means at least 10 of the 25 members are returned by people who know them personally and who are directly involved in the practical animal welfare work of the Society.

The RSPCA's membership is only a relatively small proportion of the individuals who make regular donations towards its work or regularly give practical support as a volunteer. It would strengthen the democratic structure if more of the the regular donors and volunteers became members and one option might be to explore with the Charity Commission whether the Society could be given permission to confer branch membership on regular branch volunteers to enable them to vote at the branch AGMs and stand as branch trustees.

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