Frosty air in voucher winter wonderland

First it was gift vouchers, an attempt by the Learning and Skills Council to turn college courses into a popular holiday gift. They're still on sale at several colleges, though as yet they have failed to become the latest holiday-season craze, like a Buzz Lightyear or a Tickle-Me-Elmo.

But now Bournemouth and Poole College is trying a new promotion, offering a course through the special-offers website Groupon. In this case, you can get a half-day cake decoration masterclass for #163;35, including all the ingredients - a 65 per cent discount.

FErret hopes the decision doesn't backfire. The Office of Fair Trading is investigating Groupon after complaints about its exaggeration of about 50 deals. The owner of a Santa's grotto in York saw 2,000 families descend upon them, expecting a train ride around a winter wonderland; the train was a figment of Groupon's imagination. Things soon turned ugly. "One man even verbally threatened the lady who is dressed as a Christmas tree," the owner said.

Most bargain-hunters are cheapskates who don't return when things are back to full price, as many Groupon businesses attest. Instead, the more deals you sell, the more money you lose. Meanwhile, Groupon itself spends $1.43 for every dollar of business it attracts and some analysts have criticised its viability because it can only pay businesses owed money from past deals by selling more new ones. It was still able to use more than $800 million of funding to pay executive bonuses and early investors, however.

"Having your cake and eating it is usually preferable," said the Groupon copywriter in the college's promotion. Indeed.

Can life be easy for a boy named Mary?

Shock news is contained within Companies House filings for the new Gazelle Group of entrepreneurial colleges: North Hertfordshire principal Fintan Donohue's middle name is Mary. Perhaps his parents were Johnny Cash fans? "I grew up fast and I grew up mean ... Life ain't easy for a boy named Sue" - or Mary, FErret assumes.

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