ID Cards: A solution looking for a problem

The business case for the government’s multi-billion pound ID card programme has never been clear.

Ministers have variously touted the cards as a solution to terrorism, benefit fraud and illegal immigration.

Set against these moving goalposts, it is hard to judge whether the benefits of the ID card programme are worth the cost.

And, as we report this week, it is the public that will have to pay for the scheme through increased passport charges.

In some ways, subsidising the cost of the ID card programme by charging more for passports makes sense. The same IT infrastructure now lies behind both passports and ID cards.

But as Tony Collins points out, the cost for individuals could be high. The charges for a new passport have already risen dramatically, from £28 in 1999 to as much as £114 currently. A £200 passport is probably not far off.

These charges will hit some people hard – those on low wages, families planning a foreign holiday, and pensioners. And for benefits that are hard to quantify.

The Conservative Party remains unconvinced of the value of ID cards, particularly at a time when public sector finances are under pressure during a downturn.

The party has promised to scrap the ID card programme if it wins the next election. But, as we reveal in this issue, ID cards and passports are so intertwined that scrapping ID cards alone will save very little.

The ID card contracts put in place by the government will be needed whether or not ID cards are introduced.

So ID cards may well be a fait accompli. But without a clear business case, the technology still appears to be a solution looking for a problem.