Concern as RSPCA says it will axe up to 130 jobs

JPCT 03-04-12 RSPCA, Southwater S12140983a -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 03-04-12 RSPCA, Southwater S12140983a -photo by Steve Cobb

SCORES of employees at one of the Horsham area’s biggest employers face an uncertain future this week after the RSPCA announced up to 130 job losses.

As much as a third of the workforce at the animal welfare charity’s headquarters in Southwater are at risk as the RSPCA combats rising costs and increased demand for its services.

Nationwide the organisation employs around 1,600 people, but it has said its staffing review is most likely to affect administration and support roles as it aims to protect its 1,000 frontline staff.

The Southwater HQ, in Wilberforce Way, employs about 450 members of staff, of whom only 20 are frontline staff, leaving 430 positions in the firing line.

A spokesperson for the charity said it was ‘unable to say at the moment how many jobs at the headquarters will be affected’.

“The 130 job posts mentioned apply to staff at the HQ in Southwater and in some of the regions but again the details are not worked out,” said an RSPCA spokesperson.

A final decision will be made after a 90-day consultation which started last Friday.

Roger Paterson, Horsham District Council’s cabinet member for the local economy, said it was ‘very worrying for employees and the community that the RSPCA is considering job cuts that may affect jobs in Southwater’ but that HDC would be available to help those affected.

He added: “HDC will ensure close contact with the RSPCA, and will provide full assistance where possible to link up local agencies to provide career advice and retraining, including the links provided through the council’s Microbiz initiative for self employment and business start ups.”

Tony Bull, chairman of Southwater Parish Council, said because the charity’s village HQ plays a ‘purely admin’ role the staffing review ‘could absolutely affect our economy’.

“I hope the knock-on effect in our village will not be too great but any loss of jobs is not a good one,” he said.

The Southwater HQ has been located in £16m purpose built offices on the northern edge of the village since 2001 but the charity has been contributing to Horsham’s economy since 1973 when it was relocated from London to the Causeway in Horsham.

The newly announced job cuts come as part of a series of cost-cutting measures prompted by a dramatic £10m fall in the charity’s budget in 2011, caused by rises in fuel, energy and veterinary bills, as well as an increasing staff pension fund deficit and decreasing donations.

Gavin Grant, chief executive at the RSPCA, said the charity was struggling with an increase in call centre workload and a drop in donations.

“The RSPCA is under pressure like never before. Ever-larger numbers of animals are falling victim to abuse and abandonment in part due to the economic climate,” he said.

“The RSPCA’s work depends entirely on people’s generosity, and in common with other charities we face greater pressure on our income and more demand for our services.”

In 2011, the charity took 28,162 calls about abandoned animals, a 31 per cent rise over five years and the 24-hour rescue line received more than 1.3 million phone calls during 2011.

RSPCA inspectors and other staff drive more than seven million miles every year. Fuel bills cost the charity £2m every year, and every 1p increase in the price of a litre of diesel costs the charity more than £40,000 it claims.

According to the charity’s most recent accounts, in 2010 its overall pension deficit increased by £4m to £42.1m. It had an income of £115.3m, and spent £122.96m.

Mr Grant said: “Some hard decisions must be taken. Significant job losses in administrative areas are sadly inevitable.

“However, the 1,000 or so frontline staff including RSPCA inspectors, animal welfare officers and animal collection officers, as well as workers at hospitals, wildlife and animal rehoming centres, will be protected.”

The RSPCA is the country’s biggest animal welfare charity with 166 local branches, and 16 regional, and 40 branch-run animal centres across England and Wales.

In 2010 the RSPCA rescued and collected more than 130,000 animals and investigated nearly 160,000 cruelty complaints, treated more than 211,000 animals in hospitals and clinics, secured 2,441 convictions and rehomed more than 64,000 animals.