ID cards scheme - a slight gust of openness

The Identity and Passport Service, the Home Office agency responsible for implementing the ID Cards scheme, has told potential suppliers that it “does not wish to receive any confidential or proprietary information”.

In some ways this is standard procedure. Before issuing a tender, and in the interests of treating all suppliers fairly, government departments and agencies want to discourage any furtive approaches from companies.

But if the agency carries through the theme of (admittedly qualified) openness to the implementation of the scheme, this will be a welcome departure from convention.

Indeed the agency has published details of its talks with Intellect, the suppliers’ trade association, over the scheme. Its published briefing paper gives details of the material presented and the feedback received.

The agency seems not to have chosen as its role model the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT] which seems at times swathed in propriety and confidential information. On the website of Connecting for Health, which runs the NPfIT, there are statistics, a rebuttal or two of negative comments that have been made about the programme, and much marketing material.

But the Department of Health publishes none of its internal reviews of the programme. It does not publish details of discussions with suppliers over future plans. It does not publish details of major incidents which it says are commercially confidential. It has refused requests under the Freedom of Information Act to publish its risk register. And the openness of Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust NHS trust has evaporated since it came under the wing of the NPfIT. Versions of Homerton’s Cerner system are to be deployed across England and London.

But this criticism of the NPfIT doesn’t mean the Identity and Passport Service is a model of candour. Far from it. It has not published the results of gateway reviews of the ID cards scheme and it plans to enter into framework contracts, which allow secret “mini-competitions” between suppliers.

Still the Identity and Passport Service has taken the unusual step of publishing the lessons learned from its three major IT projects in 2006. And it now says it wants its framework arrangements over ID cards to operate in a “visible manner”. This will be a challenge. When it comes to government IT, many an obstacle can be constructed between honourable intent and accountable action.

The Identity and Passport Service – National Identity Scheme Procurement Briefing Presentation

May 2007