The government’s £5.8bn national ID card project has slipped back a year following delays in passing the ID card bill through Parliament, a government minister conceded yesterday.
Home Office minister Andy Burnham said that the first ID cards would not be introduced until 2009, a year later than originally planned.
“The timetable has slipped. There is no doubt about that. The parliamentary process has taken longer than we envisaged,” he said.
Burnham was speaking after the government staved off a back bench rebellion in support of Lords amendments to the Identity Cards Bill.
Procurement for the project would start immediately after the bill receives royal assent, expected in March, Burnham revealed.
He defended the government’s reluctance to put more detailed information about the costs of the project into the public domain, arguing that it was necessary for the government to hold back, to secure value for money from suppliers.
“We are looking at procurement past. If you go out with a wholly prescriptive vision of what you want, very often you end up with a project that is not as good, and costs you more.”
But he conceded that there was a need for greater openness and transparency if the government was to win public support.
“If there is a sense of secrecy and shiftiness, we are not going to take people with us, ” he said. “We want people to feel it is good for them.”
The minister said that the government wanted to draw a line under the acrimonious dispute between the London School of Economics and the Home Office over the cost of the programme.
But he said the LSE’s estimates of the cost of the scheme, equivalent to £500 for each ID card, were designed to confuse and frighten the public.
“I don’t think these figures really helped the public debate. I don’t want to get into another battle. Let’s put more information out there. If the LSE had a legitimate point to make, it is that there is a real demand for more information,” he said.
The £580m a year running cost of the scheme does not include spending on ID cards by other government departments, who will have to make their own businesse cases for making use of ID cards.
But so far, Burnham said, other government departments had not approached the Home Office with funds for the project.