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Schools must open for longer

Northern Ireland's Classroom 2000 project has collapsed after the RMICL consortium bidding for the 10 year, pound;300 million deal broke off talks.

Last month, RM announced that it had been "unable to negotiate commercial terms" with the Northern Ireland education department for the project to provide computers and networks to all 1,227 schools in Northern Ireland.

RM spent 18 months and pound;5.4 million trying to secure the contract. Its consortium with ICL became the sole bidder in July 1999 after Capita pulled out of the race. Its chief executive Paul Pindar said then that Capita felt the potential rewards were not worth the risk.

Richard Girling, RM's chief executive, said he was "disappointed" by the failure to rech an agreement. The company gave strong hints when it released figures in late November that it would not win the contract.

Mr Girling said there was always going to be a risk in negotiating such a complex contract, partly because the education department "didn't know how to buy it and we didn't know how to sell it".

The failure will not be a huge financial blow and he expected RM to increase sales by 20 per cent as more government funding for IT in education continued to flow. It continues to account for about half of all technology spending by UK schools. RM will continue to supply a significant amount of technology to schools in Northern Ireland.

Such a big deal is unlikely to be attempted again.

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