Refugee Council CEO leaves 'by mutual consent' after income halves in two years

04 Sep 2012 News

The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Donna Covey, has left the organisation “by mutual consent” after five years at its helm.

Donna Covey, former CEO of the Refugee Council

The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Donna Covey, has left the organisation “by mutual consent” after five years at its helm.

Staff were informed by email last Tuesday and Covey left on Friday.

In response to an enquiry by, the charity forwarded the joint statement from Covey and the charity’s chair Douglas Board, which was sent to staff and volunteers.

It said: “The Refugee Council has changed a lot from the organisation which Donna joined as chief executive in May 2007. The organisation is entering a new phase in which it needs to look ahead to 2017. Reflecting the progress achieved and her own preference, Donna will stand down as chief executive by mutual agreement on 31 August.”

Asked whether any payment was made to Covey as a result of her leaving, a spokeswoman said: “The contractual arrangements are confidential but are in line with law and normal good employer practice in the charity sector, on which the trustees took external advice.”

Covey’s exit is the latest in a long line of senior departures from the organisation, which has seen its income halve from £20m in 2010 to around £10m two years later as contracts with its major funder, the UK Borders Agency, have ended or reduced.

According to its latest published annual accounts, to March 2011, “the current economic crisis has meant that 2010/11 has been a very challenging year for the refugee sector...the Refugee Council has also been affected by these difficulties.

"In 2010/11 our income dropped by 17 per cent and income for 2011/12 will suffer a further reduction of around £7m or 40 per cent.”

Redundancies and head office move

In 2011 the charity carried out the first of two major staffing reviews, which cost £656,000 in redundancy payments. According to the annual report, at the end of March last year it was waiting for the UK Border Agency to refund these costs.

During the year, employee numbers fell from 291 full-time equivalents to 258; yet the number of senior staff earning between £60,000 and £100,000 increased from three to four.

Changes have continued apace at the organisation since then; it has closed its premises in Hounslow, Birmingham and Ipswich and this summer it moved its head office from Brixton to Stratford.

Many of its frontline services have closed or changed too; several face-to-face services have been replaced with an own-language telephone advice service (Oltas) which, according to the annual report, has “significantly increased” the numbers of clients assisted.

The day centre in Brixton, which during 2010/11 provided around 36,000 hot and cold meals to mostly destitute clients as well as offering training courses and social activities, also closed.

According to the 2011 accounts, the charity’s total income fell from £20.1m in 2009/10 to £16.5m in 2010/11, and a number of funding contracts with the UK Borders Agency ended or were reduced that year.

The report said: “A reorganisation began in March 2011 to ensure that staffing was appropriate to the funding for 2011/12 which will reduce total income from £16.7m to around £10m.” Later it added that “2011/12 began with a major reorganisation to ensure the charity could fit within its new funding envelope”.

The annual accounts for 2011/12 are not due to be published until December.

Recruitment process under way

The charity said it will recruit a new CEO; in the meantime its chief operating officer Deborah Harris is acting up in the role.

In the statement to staff, Covey said: “Serving refugees and the Refugee Council has been a high point of my career. Our staff, volunteers, clients and supporters have inspired me beyond measure even in the toughest times. The charity will always be close to my heart and I wish it well.”

Douglas Board, whose own tenure as chair comes to an end at the end of this year, said: “Refugees and the Refugee Council are fortunate to have had in Donna Covey, in terms of organisational change as well as public advocacy, a leader equal to difficult times. We wish her well.

“We look forward to finding and working with the person best capable of building on what has been achieved and championing the rights of refugees over the next five years.”

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