Friday, 13 February 2009

Some alarming stories about safety coming in

Thanx to people who been emailing in or commenting. Please be sure we wont publish unless you give statement of clear permission. 
Will contact you if legal stuff blows up.

Soem couldn't find email, so used commenting instead. Its

After post about interns got some interesting stuff about safety from old staff. 

Lack of training or qualifications for tasks field officers are being asked to carry out is main point.

If you are going to sign up to Frontier project, make sure you ask about qualifications of field officers, 
for example to pilot or crew boats.

Also ask about emergency procedures, medical arrangements etc. Not just phone numbers but how people 
get to help if injured.

We are building a dossier. If you have material for it let us know.

Please be sure to link to on your own blogs and websites, and pass the link around.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

How Frontier Intern-alises Cash

Take a look at the Frontier website and you'll find seven "interns" jobs advertised in the UK. For Overseas work nine more "Officer" jobs are advertised. Sixteen is a lot of jobs, but what's the point?

The point is that most of these Officer 'jobs' pay less than £1,000 for a year's work (that's not a typo); and most of these intern 'jobs' pay nothing.
  • Officers who work in the field get their flights paid + free accommodation (est'd cost <£2,000 per head)
  • Interns who work in the UK get a 10 week 'free' Frontier placement (est'd cost <£2,000)
When you check out a document found on the Edexcel site about Frontier's 'capability' it's difficult not to wonder just how much cheap labour they employ. An estimate of the number of low-paid and non-paid staff in this document is 50 (fifty)

Why does this matter? It matters because to all intents and purposes practically the entire Frontier operation overseas, and much of it in the UK is effectively being run by volunteer labour. Some volunteers (interns and officers) pay for their experience by working for free. The others pay for their experience with cash.

Reports from former Frontier staff say about 17% (1/6) of volunteers' fees are allowed for field costs, plus about the same again for Officers' costs. What happens to the other two thirds of volunteers fees?

For example, if 40 volunteers, each paying an average of around £2,000, go on a project, the income is £80 grand.  If the field costs are around £27,000, where does the other £53,000 go?

There are a dozen projects in Oceania alone - NZ, Oz, Fiji, Cooks. Many of these projects will be smaller than the one we analyzed, but you can be sure that collectively they are delivering a surplus of some hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In the end the point here is not about the money, it is about volunteer expectations. Volunteers and their families expect that the fees they are paying to Frontier will provide professional, well-qualified and  properly paid field staff, backed up by similarly qualified and paid people in the UK. The evidence we have collected is that much of Frontier's field staff is made up of people who are little different from the volunteers they are supposed to be leading and looking after; and the situation is not much better back in the UK.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Headlines

We've been asked to summarise a few things.

Extracting cash from volunteers - we reckon on Teaching Projects alone Frontier could clear a surplus of well over half a million quid - see this post.

Accounts for the web of companies owned or controlled by Eibleis Fanning and William Hedley-Miller are here:

We have discovered that a lot of Frontier staff at home and in the field are little more than volunteers getting pocket money. They are not the professional, well-qualified, well-paid leaders and facilitators of projects that volunteers and their families think they are paying for.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

How to feed a cash-cow with volunteers

First of all you find somewhere cool (more truthfully pretty warm and lush) you think volunteers would like to go to. Cool isn’t quite enough, you also need somewhere which is relatively poor, has development needs, and is reasonably stable politically and socially.

Next you try to find schools or colleges which might have an interest in some voluntary teaching by bright kids from the UK – by definition bright because they’re over the hurdle of uni entrance. You need somewhere that will take at least 2 or 3 volunteers at a time, and can offer accommodation. The cost to the school of its additional teaching resource is the accommodation and a bit of management bandwidth for the volunteers. The school can be incentivised with a payment that is relatively large by local standards; call it a grand.

You write the Teaching Project up and start flogging it. You charge £750/person for the first 4 weeks, and £100 for each additional week (though you only sell them in 4s). 14 volunteers go for it, and the profile looks like this:

So, the school/college got 88 person weeks from the volunteers over nine months, and the organiser gets the following income from them.

14 volunteers @ £750 for the first 4 weeks = £10,500
8 volunteers @ £400 for second 4 weeks = £3,200
Total £13,700

Against this are the costs.

Total staff time to organise 1 month £1,500 (which is pretty generous)
Incentive payment to school/college £1,000
Food allowance to volunteers @£20/week £1,760 (Person weeks * 20)
Total £4,260

So the Gross profit is £9,440. From this the organiser deducts a further £1,500 for the office overheads and management costs, so there’s a net profit of £7,940.

Well you’d hardly get to a champagne lifestyle on that. Or would you? Why not run 74 projects like this? That’s far better. If every one of those projects achieves the same sort of figure (call it £8,000 in round numbers) then a net profit emerges of £592,000. Now that’s a cash-cow. And if you factor in the economies of scale, you can whack down your costs, and probably up the profit to nearer £650,000.

Of course business plans never quite work out as they should, and there are always things the naive outsider cannot see, and information they haven’t got. However on the scale of charges that Frontier makes, and on the reports from those who have experienced Frontier projects, there is plenty of surplus cash which their bovine beastie can extract from the cud.

There is nothing illegal about this. Caveat emptor always applies. What is apparent is the yawning gap between the rhetoric of the sales pitch and the quality and value for money being delivered by Frontier.

Please comment below

Friday, 6 February 2009

Who and what is

A good question!

"Frontier is a registered non-profit organisation.  We are driven by a desire to change the world for the better and we’re committed to helping the most needy peoples.  As such, our projects are designed to transfer maximum benefit to our host communities in terms of economic and welfare gains ... blah blah"

Separately we discover that Frontier is a trading name for THE SOCIETY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL EXPLORATION (SEE), a company limited by guarantee (i.e. members but no shareholders and so technically not-for-profit). The officers, and so far as we can tell the only members of SEE are Eibleis Fanning and William Hedley-Miller, both of the same address and, according to an ex-staff member of Frontier, a married couple.

Eibleis Fanning is the Director of Frontier, and Hedley-Miller its company secretary and legal rotweiler.

According to SEEs latest accounts (to September 2006), the company i.e. Frontier, is worth about a million quid. However, the value is principally made up of a debt (£1.24 million) owed to Frontier by FRONTIER ENVIRONMENTAL LTD (FEL) less an unspecified sum owed by Frontier to someone else - so there's actually only £81 grand in cash available in the bank.

The most interesting line in the accounts reveals that in 2006 Frontier (SEE) paid FRONTIER ENVIRONMENTAL LTD just under £650,000 for 'management charges' along with £57,500 in 'rent'.

That's a lot of dosh going out of not-for-profit Frontier to for-profit FRONTIER ENVIRONMENTAL LTD (FEL). So who they? 

FEL turn out to be a company owned by Eibleis Fanning and William Hedley-Miller, which has fixed assets worth something like £2.7 million, and £390,000 in cash. The shareholder value is reduced by a debt to Frontier of £1.2 million, and a debt to TARAHILL LTD (a wholly owned subsidiary of FEL - return/accounts) of about £146 grand. For all that debt, FEL is still worth £1.6 million to its two share holders EF and WH-M. The fixed assets, by the way, look like they mostly in property - Frontier HQ? 

Call us cynical, but if Frontier (SEE) has continued to pay annual management charges to FEL at the same rate as it did in 2006, FEL's debt of £1.2 million to SEE will have been wiped out by now.

The smell of rat exists because around Frontier a large amount of dosh is swilling about, and for all the fine words on the Frontier website the "transfer of maximum benefit to our host communities in terms of economic and welfare gains" doesn't look very maximum to us.

The phrase as the bottom of the FEL accounts, "All these service were conducted on an arms length basis," looks a bit thin given that the only people in the loop share the same address, and by all accounts the same bed.

Once we'd seen all the accounts, we also felt that the statements at were,  somewhat mealy-mouthed. We quote:
Unlike many organisations, Frontier strives to be transparent about how its volunteer contributions are spent. After all, you will have worked hard to raise the funds for your project or expedition and we think you are entitled to know how we operate. Whilst it is impossible to give you an exact breakdown in each individual case, we can give you an idea about the type of things on which your contribution is spent. First of all though, we would like to explain how volunteer contributions are NOT spent!

Frontier is one of the only organisations operating in the field of ethical and gap year travel which is a not for profit company. This means that volunteer contributions do not end up in shareholders' pockets, nor do we buy company cars, rent trendy offices or appoint flashy public relations consultants or advertising agencies. As a not for profit company we allocate your funds to the essential costs associated with running our internationally renowned projects, our modest office, researching and developing new projects, building partnerships with developing country NGOs, highlighting threats to endangered wildlife and habitats and developing the skills and capacity of our hardworking and popular teams of field and headquarters staff.

blah blah

Welcome to our blog

A Google Cloud has been created by people who are less than gruntled by the quality of service being offered by - a gap year company - and their response to complaints.

Nuff said here - see our posts