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Archive for May, 2014

News that charities may have to publish the salaries of senior employees on their websites might be more than a little unsettling for certain groups like the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports. Such a move might give these organisations’ respective memberships something to think about.

A recent National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) report shows that some charity chief executives receive more than £250,000 per annum. The NCVO argues that the publishing of remuneration levels in charities with over £500,000 turnover would be a step to “put power into donors’ hands” in order that they can properly decide which organisations to support and to give transparency on how their money is being spent.

163557-charity-collection-can-box-shaker-generic-good-qualityLet’s get one thing clear – some charities and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) need paid staff if they are to operate in any meaningful way. Of course unpaid volunteers are vitally important to some groups, indeed the vast majority of charities have no salaried staff at all. However, the larger organisations do require salaried staff. Some argue that such work should all be voluntary and no one paid, but that’s simply unrealistic. The two most relevant questions in this regard concern the percentage of a body’s income going on salaries and the amount of remuneration individuals receive. The answers will differ depending upon the nature of an organisation’s needs and work, but is it not legitimate to ask why, for example, the chief executive of the RSPCA requires a salary greater than that of the Prime Minister?

In a way, I’ve been reluctant to delve into this field as it’s a distraction from the central debate surrounding wildlife, its management and its welfare, but I feel such a departure is justified due to accusations made by some anti hunt people. I have been accused of changing my view on hunting solely for personal financial gain, rather than the welfare of wildlife. To some, being enticed away from the LACS’ view that all hunting with dogs is beyond the pale can only be explained by the offer of vast sums of money, rather than a genuine desire to see a better, workable way forward. So, to set the record straight, here are a few facts.

Sold: LACS' former  London HQ

Sold: LACS’ former
London HQ

My salary on leaving the League in 1995 was £28,000. Such a salary today, without any incremental rise other than inflation, equates to around £45,000, a figure higher than I currently earn and one that is nowhere near the present salary of the LACS’ chief executive.

So perhaps now only the mathematically illiterate will continue with their spurious accusations.

It’s worth mentioning that back in 1995, the League’s membership stood at over 18,000, with a further 22,000 supporters who paid a reduced subscription. The land holdings consisted of the freehold of a four storey office building in central London and significant buildings in the West Country, along with approximately 2000 acres of sanctuary land.

Now LACS’ membership numbers appear to be something of a secret (a recent request from a journalist was denied), but examination of current accounts puts it at about 3000.

The London headquarters building has gone. Numerous sanctuaries have been sold off, together with the main sanctuary building complex known as St Nicholas Priory. Also sold is the sanctuary known as the Silk Mill at Holford in Somerset. Situated in the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it was made famous by Bryan Adams, who used the site as a backdrop to a video accompanying his multi-million selling song (Everything I do) I do it for you – the theme to the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

However, none of this has prevented what some might see as a disproportionate increase in salaries. For example, in 2008 – the year the LACS became a charity – the position of Head of Communications and Campaigns attracted a salary of up to £38, 500 per annum (approximately £43,5000 in today’s money), but now the salary for that same position stands at over £80,000 per annum. One might think that it is surely legitimate for LACS’ members to ask why remuneration for this position has almost doubled in the space of six years. Bear in mind that fewer than 1% of charities employ a member of staff earning £60,000 or more.

Sold: the Silk Mill, Holford

Sold: the Silk Mill, Holford

It begs the question what is the current chief executive being paid? Well, the latest annual report filed by the LACS (2012) showed one employee receiving between £90,000 – £100,000. His predecessor apparently was on a salary of between £120,000 – £130,000 per annum. The League Against Cruel Sports is a charity and, like all charities, benefits financially through donations and tax concessions. Yet I wonder if members, now vastly diminished in number, and other donors are aware of precisely how their subscriptions and donations are being spent and indeed what has happened to the considerable assets that had been accumulated since the organisation was formed.

Shortly after the Hunting Act was passed, the money spent by the three main anti hunting organisations (the RSPCA, LACS and IFAW) was calculated to be just short of £30 million. That figure will have risen dramatically since then and can be added to the enormous cost borne by the public purse through police and court time.

Animal welfare is important. It demands and deserves considerable resources to address deliberate and genuine cruelty to animals, both domesticated and wild. Yet these vital resources are limited, so how they are used is absolutely central to the whole debate about the way in which animals are treated. Recently we’ve seen vast amounts of money spent on futile legal cases against hunts, some of which failed and with the costs falling on the taxpayer.

Sold: St Nicholas Priory, Baronsdown

Sold: St Nicholas Priory, Baronsdown

It’s almost the case that once a donation or legacy has been received, certain groups feel that this money is theirs to play with as they wish. Certainly some charity trustees have doubtful backgrounds and the activities they sanction can hardly be classified as ‘charitable’ and thereby for the public benefit.

The real irony here is that, regardless of the pro/anti hunting debate and the way in which they were managed, the sanctuaries could be argued to be of some public benefit. Yet now that the League has become a charity, much of that land has been sold off to sustain high salaries for officials and to pay for “investigators” to crawl around in undergrowth filming hunts.

So maybe LACS members and supporters will welcome the NCVO suggestions, which are:

  • that the precise remuneration, job titles and the names of their highest-paid people, and that those charities with a gross income of over £500,000 is published
  • that this should be accompanied by a summary of the arguments used by the board of trustees to justify the amounts involved and explain how they reflect the charity’s ethos and values
  • that all this information should be brought together, not only within the (sometimes hard-to-access) annual accounts, but also on the charity’s website no more than two clicks away from its home page

These recommendations and guidance have received the backing of the Charity Commission, itself the subject of a government consultation regarding its powers.

Hopefully the proposals of the NCVO will be implemented, a move that will make the charitable sector more transparent and accountable as far as paid staff are concerned. On a second front, with Charity Commission powers strengthened, there should be fewer dubious activities posing as ‘charitable’.

At the very least, in future when a controversial step is taken by a charity we should know how much those responsible are being paid to take it.

 

 

 

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