Chief executive’s departure adds to turmoil surrounding the future of government schools programme

Tim Byles, the man who has led delivery of the government’s school building programme for the past four years, is to leave his position as chief executive of Partnerships for Schools, Building understands.

Byles’ move, which is expected to be announced imminently, will add to the turmoil surrounding the future of the school building programme, which was put on hold by the government last July.

Hundreds of schools projects that were part of the £55bn Building Schools for the Future scheme remain frozen while the government works out how to cut the costs of building schools. A major review into the programme, led by Sebastian James, was published last month after a five month delay, but the government has yet to respond to its recommendations.

It is understood that Byles will establish his own company that will look to buy public sector buildings and develop them for use in the education, healthcare and residential sectors - including as free schools. The company, which will be called Cornerstone, is being backed by John McDonough of Carillion and Rod Aldridge, founder of Capita, who also runs academy sponsor the Aldridge Foundation. The money Cornerstone generates will be split between investors and projects in the third sector, such as education charity the Transformation Trust. Byles is expected to leave PfS at the end of May and start his new venture in June.

Despite continuing criticism of the bureaucracy around schools procurement, Byles, who joined PfS in November 2006, is widely credited with getting the building programme back on its feet after it was crippled by early delays. His departure is likely to raise fears that other key staff will leave, adding to the disruption.

The government is expected to appoint a caretaker manager to run PfS while it considers its future. The James Review recommended that a central agency - with even greater responsibilities for delivery than PfS - be established to manage future work. However, this conflicts with the government’s localism agenda and its aim to reduce the number and power of quangos, suggesting that the recommendation could be rejected.

A Partnerships for Schools spokesperson said that the government was considering its response to the James Review and that the organisation would not be drawn on the circumstances of individuals.

Meanwhile, PfS announced this week that £800m of work given the go-ahead by the government earlier this year will be let to the 15 contractors on its academies framework in batches from June. The schemes will be divided into £250m worth of work (28 schemes) in the North, and £550m worth (43) in the South. The first two to come to market, worth a total of £25m, will be in Bolton and Brighton.

Eight free schools are also currently being procured through the deal, which PfS indicated could also be used for university technical colleges.