RSPCA may be hit by strike over call centre closures

The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals is facing its first strike. Staff are threatening to act over the closure of 10 regional call centres, with the loss of 200 jobs.

The charity plans to replace the branches with a central switchboard in Bristol. Staff say it will put animals at risk because people who want to report cases may have to wait longer for calls to be answered.

Amicus, the union representing RSPCA staff, says that some people may hang up rather than wait in a queue.

But workers are also said to be furious at the way millions of pounds have disappeared in stock market losses and administrative costs. The charity raises £80m a year but has lost £16m on the stock market in the past three years.

The losses have triggered a pay and recruitment freeze while the RSPCA has spent £16m on a new headquarters in Horsham, West Sussex. There has also been anger at the £90,000 salary of the charity's director general, the former MP Jackie Ballard.

Workers passed a vote of no confidence in the management last month and union members will be balloted on strike action in the next few weeks. Bryn Pass, an Amicus official, said: "Limited cover will be provided if the one-day strike goes ahead. We will not let animals suffer but we have to take action.''

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: "We have lost money on the stock market and we do have to make savings on administration, but we have never denied that.

"The closure of the regional call centres is about making those savings. We would never make any decision that would impact on animal welfare or prevention of cruelty.''

A number of people have resigned from the 167-year-old charity's governing council since the appointment of Ms Ballard, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton, in November last year.

One council member, Chris Flood, resigned in February, saying: "There is an enormous financial deficit and money is being spent that we haven't got. You could write what Jackie Ballard knows about financial issues on the back of a small postage stamp."

Some members of the society have also expressed anger at the £4.5m spent on political campaigns in the past year. At the same time, plans to build a £3m home for abandoned animals near Durham city have been postponed because of the financial problems.

Under the restructuring, people who telephone the single switchboard to report cases of abuse and neglect will also be asked if they want to make a donation to the charity.

¿ The RSPCA and its Irish equivalent, the ISPCA, called for an urgent review of rules covering the transportation of dogs after an investigation found that 36 greyhounds were kept in "atrocious" conditions during a 750-mile sea and road journey to Barcelona. Under ferry company guidelines, dogs transported for commercial purposes are considered as freight.

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