St John Ambulance, the charity, has been accused of abandoning its volunteers as it attempts a widespread restructuring project.The first aid organisation has announced plans to streamline its management amid financial woes.
It is set to embark on a major restructuring exercise to rebalance its books, which includes setting up eight regional boards and merging offices in 41 regions.
But the charity, which has recorded operating losses seven years in a row, is accused of “kicking volunteers in the teeth” by those who regularly help out.
They claim that disillusioned volunteers will no longer want to raise money if the cash goes in a central pot rather than helping local projects.
“All counties work in their own particular way according to their local people and in a way that can only be done by them,” one senior volunteer said.
“If the structure is changed … what incentive is there for local people to volunteer and raise money?”
A former chairman of a county division claimed the changes would lead to “financial ruin”.
“We are absolutely horrified because we feel that this restructure is doing away with the strong volunteer ethos of St John’s. It’s like kicking volunteers in the teeth” she said.
Under the plans eight regional directors will be created on salaries of £80,000 a year plus benefits to represent London, the south east, south west, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, North-West and North East.
Officials admitted that “financial” pressures were partly behind the new structure as well as “increasing regulation”. It denied it was in “imminent financial crisis”.
While the service claimed there would be no redundancies the charity admitted “some roles have been placed at risk and are therefore undergoing consultation”. It would not provide further details.
The charity, founded in 1877, currently employs about 1600 staff across the country and has more than 40,000 volunteers on its books.
It trains more than half a million people a year and has more than 1000 ambulances that provide support to NHS trusts. The Duke of Gloucester is the service’s Grand Prior of the Order.
In a letter sent to volunteers around the country, Rodney Green, the charity’s Prior and chairman of board of trustees, admitted the organisation faced a “number of difficult challenges in the years ahead”.
A briefing note sent to volunteers explaining the changes, said the organisation needed to increase its “charitable and community impact”.
“We need a greater consistency in our quality – so that we can meet more stringent regulatory requirements and also better support the front line,” stated the document, titled “Becoming ‘The Difference’: transforming St John Ambulance”.
“More urgently, we need to balance the books and achieve secure finances. For seven years running, we have spent more than we earned and are set to make further losses this year. The charity cannot sustain this.”
Mr Green insisted the changes, signed off by the trustees last month following “rigorous analysis of the current structure”, would transform the organisation “so that we can save yet more lives”.