Charity Commission criticises 'shortcomings' at RSPCA chair's charity

05 Jul 2018 News

There were "concerning gaps in record keeping" at a local branch of the RSPCA where the daughter of the chair of the national charity was appointed to a paid position, but there was "no evidence of deliberate mismanagement", according to a report published today.

RSPCA Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone Branch is a local branch of the RSPCA, which has a federated structure. Daphne Harris, chair of the local branch, is also the chair of the national organisation. Her daughter was also at one time a trustee of the local branch.

Harris was criticised on the front page of The Sun after the local charity employed her daughter as a cattery manager, and bought a cattery in which she lived. But some aspects of the story were untrue and The Sun removed the article from its archive and published an apology.

The Commission opened a compliance case to establish whether the charity had acted appropriately in purchasing the property and appointing the cattery manager. 

The charity has been issued with formal guidance and an action plan to resolved governance issues identified by the Commission. 

Tracy Howarth, head of regulatory compliance at the Charity Commission, said: “In this case, we found no evidence that there had been deliberate mismanagement. But we did find concerning gaps in record keeping and shortcomings in the process for appointing the chair’s daughter to a paid position, which also involved purchasing a property at which she would live.

"In charities, good governance and sound processes matter – and where charities do not demonstrate the highest standards of governance, public confidence can be undermined.”

Findings 

The case report found that buying the property was justified, but that there had not been a specific project team established and that the chair and her daughter had been “actively involved” in identifying a suitable property. 

Trustees advertised the role for the centre manager in local media and when the chair’s daughter expressed an intention to apply the chair stood back and a selection panel was appointed by the national charity. This included the branch treasurer, the RSPCA regional manager and the branch support specialist. 

The charity told the Commission that the chair's daughter had resigned as a trustee ahead of being offered the position as cattery manager, but could not produce records to prove it. When she became cattery manager she continued to attend board meetings and she continued to be listed as a trustee in annual returns until September 2013 – nearly two years after she was appointed to the paid role. 

Because she had not effectively resigned ahead of being appointed as the cattery manager the Commission’s permission should have been sought. 

It also said that the charity’s record keeping when it came to meeting minutes and its annual reports were “inadequate and not of the standard the Commission would expect in the circumstances”. 

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