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SSPCA charity reels from cash crisis

THE SCOTTISH Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is reeling from a severe cash crisis that is leading to the closure of a number of its rescue centres in Scotland.

The Society has been slammed by animal welfare activists north of the border for taking this approach, accusing them of mismanagement of funds. However, the Society has hit back with a stinging rebuke that the situation is not of their making, but a direct knock-on effect of the harsh financial penalties imposed on charities by Chancellor Gordon Brown’s hike in National Insurance rates (see feature in this issue).

The closures could simply be the start of the total extinction of the SSPCA.

Animal welfare campaigners the Waterside Action Group have accused the SSPCA of financial mis-management by "gambling" with donated money on the stock market, and have established an Internet petition calling on the Society to reverse its planned closures.

WAG founder Ken McKie said: "We are distressed to hear of the proposed actions of the SSPCA to save costs. This situation is not of the making of the public or the poor animals but by the SSPCA gambling money donated, raised at events and left in legacies. In our opinion not one person has wished their money or efforts to be put to this use. Before any other action it would be more prudent to ask those responsible to explain their actions. Once this has been answered we would hope that those responsible for this situation would then be made accountable for their actions.

"Wag would ask people not to be complacent with this issue as the closure of these centres would be catastrophic to the thousands of vulnerable animals in need of their protection
It is with regret that we note the intention to close welfare centres. We would ask that the SSPCA look at other area of its operations and consider losing some of their other overheads, in particular middle management administration."

Doreen Graham, Senior Press Officer for the SSPCA, hit back at WAG’s assertion with a very stark prediction for the Society’s future if it did not receive funding and support, rather than brickbats.

"The Society is between a rock and a hard place just now and quite simply, if we don’t take steps to cut costs, there will be no Scottish SPCA in three year’s time," said Ms Graham.

"During 2002, the Society’s running costs were £8.9 million and the deficit was £3.2 million – this obviously cannot continue.

"The increase in running costs stems from areas outside our control. For instance, during the last two years, we have seen in increase in our insurance premium of £100,000. At one time charities didn’t pay water charges, but given that we use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for hosing kennels, our swan pools and seal treatment unit, there is an enormous cost implication. Another area where we have seen growing expenditure relates to changes in Health and Safety Legislation. We have had to install security measures in some of our remote centres, and in some cases, this has meant installing cameras and in others, it entails a security guard visiting the property during the night. Last year, this was a budget of £zero. This year it’s £30,000."

Severe downturn

Ms Graham admitted that the Society relied heavily on income from financial investments, but since the stock market bottomed out, that money was virtually non-existent at this time. Indeed, many charities have invested funds in similar ways and have derived good returns whilst the stock market has been buoyant, but all have been hit hard since the world’s financial markets have faced a severe downturn.

Ms Graham continued: "Our fundraisers increased income by £600,000 bringing in a total of £2m (this excludes legacies) but we are very limited as to where we can raise money.

"We are in the unusual situation of being a charity and a reporting agency to the Crown, but we receive no government funding. We are also excluded from applying to the Good Causes Fund run by the National Lottery, which we think is shameful. If we were saving a rare newt we would be eligible, but because we are animal welfare we are excluded. Animals are part of our Society and an indicator of how we treat people – surely that is worth supporting."

On the matter of getting public support for the Society’s efforts, Ms Graham said: "We have had many calls from the public asking how they can help. We would ask them to contact their election candidates to ask for government funding and a change to the Lottery criteria.

We would also ask them to acknowledge the Scottish SPCA as the animal welfare organisation for Scotland. We are still mistaken for the RSPCA, who only operate in England and Wales, and we believe this is hurting the Society financially.

A few years ago we sent out 100,000 questionnaires to supporters and one of the questions was "Have you ever donated money to the RSPCA believing they worked in Scotland?" The answer was alarming - 89% said yes. This could mean millions are heading south of the border.

We do not have the finances of the RSPCA to compete with their advertising budget.

The SSPCA had received many calls from people saying that they would cease to support the Society if they close their local Animal Welfare Centre. However, the SSPCA is maintaining the services of the Inspectorate, the frontline in the fight against cruelty, and have pledged that a place will always be found for the animals in need.

"If the decision is made to close an AWC, we will need the support of the people in that area more than ever. It may mean they have to drive further to re-home an animal, but we need them to continue to do so," added Ms Graham.

"If people really want to help us, then please – make donations to the SSPCA and urge the MSPs within the Scottish Executive to consider authorising some form of funding to the Society, because we operate for animals within Scotland. It is important to emphasise that any decision to make cuts within the Scottish SPCA will not be taken lightly, but cuts will have to made or there will be no future at all for the Scottish SPCA – and that would be a black day for animal welfare."