Each party blames the other for the collapse of the deal, with Atkins saying there has been resentment at the council since the Department for Education & Skills said the council was incapable of running its own education service, forcing it to accept the help of a private sector partner. But Southwark is hardly likely to have sabotaged its own contract.
The DfES intervened after an Ofsted inspection in April 2001, resulting in the council handing control of its education service to Atkins.
But the arrangement between Atkins and Southwark foundered because the government changed the way funding is allocated to education departments and schools in a way the company claimed was unacceptable. Government guidelines said Atkins ought to negotiate a contract with each school individually, so Atkins walked away. The council, of course, does not have that luxury.
What it amounts to is that the government pushed Southwark into this deal, then made it unworkable.
It is unclear how councils are supposed to cope with the inevitable cost and upheaval when a private firm walks away from a huge deal in the middle of a contract. Inevitably it will be the children and staff involved who will lose out in the ensuing chaos.
The government insists schools should be made to feel empowered and in control of their own fu tures and devolving funding is clearly the right way forward. But to cut councils out of the loop on the one hand, while insisting PPPs are the future on the other, is clearly an unworkable strategy. The DfES has wrecked the contract it insisted on and seriously damaged Southwark's efforts to turn round its education service.