RSPCA given warning over payout of former chief

The RSPCA has received an official warning from the Charity Commission over the decision-making process surrounding the payout of its former chief executive.

A formal warning issued to the animal welfare charity claimed its trustees had failed to ensure they were sufficiently informed before making a hefty settlement to Michael Ward, former interim chief executive.

The regulator launched an investigation into the charity management after it was reported the RSPCA had issued a payoff in excess of the £150,000 salary commanded by the chief post.

The payoff was issued after 57-year old Ward claimed he was rejected for the permanent role due to his age.

Investigation conclusions found the trustees had not acted with “reasonable care” during their negotiations with Ward, resulting in "mismanagement in the administration of the charity".

Furthermore, it said the RSPCA needs to be able to demonstrate the highest standards of governance, given its functions and size, yet the regulator has had “significant engagement” with the charity over recent years regarding its governance.

It said the level of its engagement has been “concerning” and there has been an “unusually high turnover” among chief executives, with significant periods of time without a substantive chief executive in post.

Commenting on the warning, the Commission’s deputy chief executive and registrar of charities for England and Wales, David Holdsworth said: “The RSPCA is a much-loved national institution performing a crucial role in animal protection, with its staff and volunteers undertaking vital work.

“The public, and the RSPCA’s many members and supporters, need it to succeed and to deliver important benefits for society. They rightly expect that it should be run by its trustees to the highest standards.

“Unfortunately, that has not been the case and the charity’s governance has fallen short which has led to people asking legitimate questions about the pay-out to the former executive.”

He added that by issuing an official warning signals to the trustees that the regular expects the them to resolve the issue and take “immediate steps” to improve the charity’s overall governance.

“The recent election of a new Council, the introduction of a new code of conduct and the recruitment of a new chief executive, provide an opportunity for a fresh start for the charity,” he said.

“The trustees must now show leadership, and work with the new chief executive in driving forward the required improvements in governance.

“The use of our formal legal powers is a significant step, and not one we take lightly. I hope that the trustees use it as an opportunity to work constructively with the RSPCA’s new chief executive and to show to their members, supporters and the wider public that they are committed to good and effective governance.”

Failure to provide the regulator with a satisfactory response to the issues will result in further regulatory action, Holdsworth added.

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