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Reviewing a memento of more optimistic times

In a move that will please fans of dramatic irony, the Learning and Skills Network (LSN), which went bust at a speed that would have drawn gasps of admiration from a dot-com failure, has filed its annual return to the Charity Commission.

Written for the period up to March 2010, before the LSN became fully aware of the financial mess it had got into, the publication enables us to fully enjoy the benefits of hindsight. "The financial strength of LSN allows the charity to continue with its diversification strategy," the return said, which is true only inasmuch as it has diversified into no longer existing.

The charity was sunk by spending its reserves on acquisitions that failed to bring in the unrealistic amounts of cash it had hoped for. And so, naturally, it said that, "The acquisitions and shared services bring immense opportunities to grow LSN and its subsidiaries. However, (LSN) does not underestimate the level of investment that these will require and the level of risk that accompanies the opportunities." Feel the fear and do it anyway, eh?

Never mind, the return continues, if anything does go wrong the company has maintained "adequate" reserves to mitigate risk in a competitive environment and to cover its pension deficit. The risk, alas, was not to be mitigated, so it is to be hoped that the administrators will be able to find the #163;20 million in pension liabilities that the local government pension scheme is claiming.

And finally, the answers to the question "What are your charity's main objectives for next year?" did not include "Go bust and leave staff out of a job and out of pocket." Instead, they used words like "continue", which have proved to be wildly optimistic.

Company secretary Helen Meredith certified online that the information provided was correct when she sent it in on 7 January this year. In the interests of the strictest accuracy, she might have wanted to give it a quick bit of revision before hitting the send button.

One line was unerring in its accuracy, however. Explaining why there was no entry in the space to detail fundraising activity and the amount raised, the return said that "LSN does not generate funds through fundraising activities." More is the pity.

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