Adverts: 0161 709 4576 - Editorial: 0161 709 4571
Mail Order: 0161 709 4578 - Subs: 0161 709 4575 - Webteam: 0161 709 4567
RSPCA spending row prompts ‘efficiencies’

The RSPCA could be forced to cut back animal welfare services and close one of its wild animal hospitals in the face of a financial crisis caused by stock market falls and controversial spending decisions.

Critics within the organisation claim too much money has been spent on political campaigns, a food labelling scheme and the new £16 million headquarters.

A member of the society's ruling council said last night: "When the little old lady in the street puts her money in the box, she expects it to be spent on animals."

Forward plans have been cancelled and trustees have been sent a document outlining proposals for cuts which will be finalised at a full council meeting in September.

The memorandum, leaked last week to The Daily Telegraph, says savings of £2 million must be made and areas of work will have to be lost.

Despite an income of £70 million last year, including £40 million from legacies, the charity has suffered because its investments were devalued in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and in the stock market slide of the past month.

Under threat

Funding is under threat for a new animal hospital in Birmingham, a proposed clinic at Merthyr, in south Wales, and a planned animal home at Felledge, near Newcastle. Other proposed cuts include the closure of Stapeley Grange Wildlife Hospital at Nantwich, Cheshire.

Some council members are also highly critical of the society’s "Freedom Food" brand and are trying to close the operation down or sell it off completely. The Freedom Food brand is said to have cost the society £1.6 million in direct grants last year.

The company, a wholly owned subsidiary that offers farmers higher prices in return for good animal welfare, has cost the society more than £10 million since 1993 despite repeated assurances to trustees that it would be self-financing.

A memo from RSPCA Director General Peter Davies indicated that Mike Sharpe, chief executive of Freedom Food, had resigned, with effect from September, "for personal reasons". But last night a spokesman for the society insisted Mr Sharpe was retiring and would continue as a consultant.

The spokesman denied that Freedom Food was under threat and said it had a solid majority in favour on the council.

She confirmed that the society was seeking to make "efficiencies" but emphasised that no decisions had yet been made. "The main thrust is for efficiencies in the animal centres, regional HQs, head office and everywhere. I am sure Stapeley Grange will not be closing."