U.K. Tories caution against ‘costly white elephant’

The U.K.’s Conservative Party has reiterated that it will scrap the government’s 5.3 billion-pound (CAN$11.2 billion) ID cards scheme as ministers announced that the delayed procurement for the program had finally begun.

A tender notice for the National Identity Scheme (NIS) strategic supplier framework has now been published, covering most of the scheme’s requirements.

But speaking after the announcement, shadow home secretary David Davis, said: “This project will do nothing to improve our security. In fact independent experts like Microsoft and the London School of Economics have pointed out that it could well make our security worse while costing the tax payer 20 billion pounds in the process.

“This is why we have written to the cabinet secretary and the major companies likely to be involved in the bidding process putting them on formal notice that the Conservatives would scrap this costly white elephant.”

Davis sent the letter in February, in an unprecedented warning to potential suppliers. It sparked fury from the supplier community, with trade body Intellect warning that the threat could cast doubt on other major IT procurements.

The publication of the tender notice, during the parliamentary recess, comes two months after the James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, admitted that the procurement for IT systems to support the scheme was set to begin, but “we’re not quite ready yet.” Hall was speaking in June, as Gordon Brown prepared to take over as prime minister.

The notice says: “It is intended to award a number of projects called off against the framework each to run for up to 10 years in duration.”

But some elements may be procured outside the framework, while the framework may also be used to procure for projects outside the NIS, it adds.

The framework will cover replacement of core application and enrolment processes for passports and the provision of desktop infrastructure for the Identity and Passport Service, along with the replacement and upgrading of existing systems for fingerprint matching and storage.

Other potential projects let under the framework are set to include biometric recording, storage and matching, biographical background and identity checking services, passport and ID card production, biometric enrolment services, entitlement checking and associated case management services.

Home Office minister Meg Hillier said the framework procurement showed the government was “committed to introducing the scheme carefully and securely, minimizing both cost and risk.”

Hall, of the Identity and Passport Service, added: “Feedback from the supplier community has shaped our approach to procurement and will ensure we have a competitive process that enables innovative solutions and value for money.

“I am confident that the supplier community will step up to the mark in helping us construct this key national asset.”
The Home Office said the scheme would require a range of capabilities from a combination of the private and public sectors, including “the ability to deliver large, complex, secure systems; to manage these systems to deliver reliable performance day after day; to respond flexibly as requirements and priorities evolve; to deliver a consistent, high-quality customer experience to the millions of people who will use the scheme; and to provide outstanding value for money.”

These elements are set to come under increasing public and political scrutiny as procurement and implementation of the scheme move on. But the government has lodged a high court appeal against a ruling that it must publish the “gateway reviews” on the progress of the scheme carried out by the Office of Government Commerce.

Related content:

Rethinking the ID registry

Opposition to Real ID escalates in the U.S.

Spotlight on Michael Tschichholz, e-Government Competence Center, Germany

Smartcards to integrate levels of e-government in Australia

Portugal picks national ID card supplier

Video: The pro’s and cons of Real ID

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