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