The Charity Commission has today issued an official warning to the RSPCA over a settlement paid out to the acting chief executive.
The regulator criticised trustees for not being fully informed before making a significant payment to the acting chief executive and said this amounted to “mismanagement”.
Michael Ward took over as acting chief executive in 2017, after previous leader Jeremy Cooper left with immediate effect.
Ward was reported to have been offered a six-figure pay off when he left - also with immediate effect - earlier this year.
Chris Sherwood took up the post of chief executive earlier this month. He is the charity’s eighth leader in 11 years.
The Commission said that charity's chair, vice-chair, treasurer and deputy treasurer failed to “comply with their duty to ensure they were sufficiently informed before making a decision about the settlement to the acting chief executive” and that this amounted to mismanagement.
It has ordered the charity to provide formal training for council members so they are “fully aware of their responsibilities as trustees” and to implement the recommendations of an independent governance review.
It is not the first time RPCA has made a substantial pay out to a former executive. RSPCA’s accounts for the year ending December 2017 show the highest earner received between £190,000 and £199,999 - £50,000 more than the usual pay for the chief executive.
The charity did not say who had received that payment, although it may have been Jeremy Cooper.
‘Governance has fallen short’
The Commission said that the RSPCA has “fallen short” and that it must takes steps to address underlying governance issues.
David Holdsworth, registrar of charities for England and Wales and deputy chief executive of the Charity Commission, 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 trustees must “take immediate steps to improve the charity’s governance”.
Holdsworth said there were signs that the charity had made a good start but it needed to go further and work constructively with the regulator and its new chief executive to make further progress.
“The recent election of a new council [trustees], 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. The trustees must now show leadership, and work with the new chief executive in driving forward the required improvements in governance.”
He warned that if the Commission was not satisfied with the RSPCA’s response “we will not hesitate to take further regulatory action”.
RSPCA: ‘We are moving in the right direction’
The RSPCA said it has already implemented 90 per cent of the recommendations made by the governance review.
Findings from an overarching governance review were published a year ago and made 40 recommendations.
At the time the payment was made Daphne Harris was chair of the RSPCA. She has since completed her term and a new chair, Paul Draycott, has been selected. Harris is still on the council, the RSCPA's term for board of trustees.
In the foreword to the 2017 annual report Harris made special mention of the acting chief executive, Ward, describing him as “exemplary”.
A spokesman said: "The RSPCA ruling council is fully committed to the very highest standards of governance. Council continues to implement the recommendations of the Governance Review, with more than 90 per cent of them completed, and is working hard with our new chief executive on the outstanding items.
“We are confident that the Society is moving in the right direction - as indicated by the 2018 You Gov Brand Index naming the RSPCA as the most improved charity brand. Council remains united in its commitment to ensuring the RSPCA is a modern, outward looking organisation that is fully focused on pursuing our goal of creating a world which is kinder to animals.”