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Black arts: fraud and witchcraft

We taxpayers are still licking our wounds after the scams which drained millions of pounds from the Treasury through the poorly-managed Individual Learning Accounts scheme. Now, another alleged fraud emerges, this time involving college franchising, where training is contracted out to private companies, at Sandwell College.

But spare a thought for the legions of auditors and police officers who have to follow up all this intrigue. "The Government is placing an increasingly high priority on fraud," one weary insider on the investigation into Sandwell tells me. "In fact, everything it looks at unfortunately turns out to be fraudulent."

In the meantime, FErret hears that Sandwell may not be the only college to be caught up in the scandal. Several have now been contacted by auditors at the Learning and Skills Council's national office in Coventry, who fear the companies whose offices were raided by police may have had links with more than one college.

The auditors at Coventry are keen to keep the identities of the suspect companies quiet but have been whispering their names over the phone to principals who may have had dealings with them.

By the way, if you thought the questionable use of public funds is restricted to these shores, you would be wrong. Think yourself lucky you're not a taxpayer in Norway, where the promotion of lifelong learning includes providing government subsidies for witches to teach magic tricks.

Lena Skarning, 33, who now describes herself as "Norway's only state-backed witch", gets pound;4,500 for teaching anyone who's interested a trick or two as one of the services provided by her organisation Forest Witch Magic Consulting. The money comes on the condition that her spells don't do anyone any harm.

A bit safer than ILAs, then.

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