A schools support contract designed to save the council more than £1.8 million a year could be wound up early due to the impact of coronavirus.

Private contractor Cambridge Education is in talks with Barnet Council over terminating the deal in August this year – nearly three years before it was due to end in March 2023.

It means the services covered by the contract could come back under the direct control of the council or be run by a trading company set up by the local authority.

Signed in 2015, the deal saw around 145 council staff transfer over to Cambridge Education, which is part of the Mott MacDonald Group. The seven-year contract covered services such as catering, school improvement, school admissions and services for children with special educational needs.

But in April, the contractor notified a “force majeure event” – an extraordinary event that stops an organisation fulfilling its obligations – due to the impact of Covid-19.

John Burgess, branch secretary of trade union Barnet Unison, called the development a “damning example” of how the private sector “doesn’t like taking the risks for delivering public services”.

“This latest crisis could not come at a worse time,” he added. “The staff delivering this service have been valiantly supporting Barnet schools to continue to provide for pupils during this pandemic. Now, at a time when they are mobilising to support Barnet schools reopening in September, they are facing an unknown future.

“The obvious and most common-sense decision is to simply transfer the services back to the council.”

During the past two years, Barnet Council has brought several services that were previously outsourced to private firm Capita back under its direct control.

A spokesperson for Cambridge Education said: “The Covid-19 crisis has brought significant complexities and consequences and may require substantial revisions to the way in which Cambridge Education is able to the deliver education and skills contract. Cambridge Education has entered into a conversation with Barnet to explore the future of the partnership.

“The Cambridge Education partnership is proud to have improved educational progress and achievement in Barnet year on year, and as a result of the combined efforts involved, 96.8 per cent of Barnet schools are good or outstanding and Barnet is now in the top 10 per cent for almost all educational achievement measures and the top five per cent for many of them.

“These achievements have been delivered at the same time as reducing the cost of the service to Barnet by almost £2 million.”

A Barnet Council spokesman said: “We are currently in ongoing discussions with Mott MacDonald about the future of its partnership with the council after the company highlighted the potential impact of current events on the performance of its obligations under the contract. No decision has been made at this point.

“This partnership has proved very successful in providing support services to schools, delivering significant savings to the council and helping schools to continue to offer excellent standards of education.

“To ensure we continue to offer the best possible services in the event the contract ends early, we are considering a range options and consulting with schools. These options include bringing the service in house or establishing a local authority controlled company which would be wholly owned by the council. Both of these options would ensure job security for staff.”