When senior officials are interviewed by journalists they usually pick up almost immediately what story the reporter wants to write and may sometimes try to confuse; it can also work the other way.
If the reporter puts to the officials overly positive – oily – questions, the officials may laden their assurances with caveats, pointing out the many complexities, uncertainties, risks and challenges.
So it was good to talk earlier this week to Bill Crothers, CIO of the Identity and Passport Service and its chief executive James Hall. They tell it like it is. Two things were clear to me at the outset – before the interview – and were still clear afterwards.
1) If the Conservatives win the next General Election and cancel ID Cards, there will be little in effect to cancel. The IT infrastructure for passports is being combined with that of ID Cards. So the £650m worth of contracts which were awarded this week to CSC and IBM for new ID Cards and passports IT will remain largely intact.
2) The costs of ID Cards are likely to be met, to a large extent, by passport fee increases.
It’s going to be increasingly difficult to separate the costs of producing passports and ID Cards. And I had no denial from the Home Office that the cost of ID Cards will be mixed in with the cost of passports.
ID Cards will be voluntary at first and the fee will be low initially: £30. [There would be little point in a high charge for ID Cards while they are voluntary as few people would buy them.] But as ID Cards and passports will share much of the same IT infrastructure, the cost of ID Cards can be included in monopolistic passport fee increases. The Treasury requires that the Identity and Passport Service is self-funded. But it’s not possible yet to split the costs of the infrastructure between ID Cards and passports. So ID Card costs will be mixed into passport fee increases.
Already passports cost up to £114 – and officials don’t deny that we’re heading towards the £200 passport.
Note the response of the Home Office to my questions on whether passport fee increases will pay for ID Cards. A spokesman said:
“In the long-term it is our intention to continue to break even by recovering the operational costs of the National Identity Scheme from the fees generated by the issuing of ID cards and passports.”
Will passport fee increases pay for ID Cards? – Computer Weekly
The technology behind the latest ID Cards contracts – Computer Weekly April 2009
LSE on ID Cards – May 2008
The LSE Identity Project – third report
£650m ID Cards biometrics – Silicon.com
CSC to take over up to 350 passports IT staff – Computer Weekly