The government has spent millions of pounds on a project to provide airport staff with ID cards — despite doubts over whether any workers will take part in the scheme.
According to the Identity and Passport Service's (IPS) annual accounts, published earlier this week, £12.4m was spent on the Critical Workers Identity Card (CWIC) scheme last year.
The scheme, initially intended to make ID cards compulsory among pilots and other airside workers from this year, will now go ahead on a voluntary basis after being scaled back by home secretary Alan Johnson earlier this month in the face of resistance from unions.
Edgar Whitley, reader in information systems at the London School of Economics and co-author of two LSE reports on the ID card project, said it is hard to justify the spending on the CWIC project.
"Nobody will rush out to get one, which does rather question the £12m they have already spent. If new [airport] employees are not going to be made to take up the card then what have [the government] spent the money on?" he said.
The future of the entire £5bn ID cards project looks increasingly uncertain in the light of recent announcements, including the home secretary's revelation that the cards will never be compulsory for UK citizens, and doubts over how useful the scheme will be to the public. The Conservatives have also pledged to scrap the scheme if elected next year.
A spokesman for the Home Office said that significant numbers of airside workers will still take up the cards.
"We believe that we can now achieve the objectives of CWIC just as effectively where airside workers apply for them on a voluntary basis," he said.
The spokesman added that the technology developed under the CWIC scheme will also be used to support the launch of voluntary ID cards in Manchester later this year, and the subsequent rollout of voluntary cards to the north west of England.
MPs however recently questioned who would voluntarily sign up for cards that will cost each person £60, particularly as they could be subject to a fine of up to £1,000 for failing to inform government of changes to their personal details held on ID cards.
Spending on the wider ID cards project was revealed in the IPS accounts, which showed the IPS spent £85.1m on developing tech for the National Identity Scheme, which includes tech to support both ID cards and second-generation biometric passports that include a chip containing facial photograph and fingerprint scans.
Recent figures given out in parliament by the home secretary also revealed that £41.1m had been spent on the ID cards project between 2003 and 2006, and that £92.6m had been spent on future development projects, which includes preparation work for ID cards and biometric passports, between 2006 and 2008.
ID card costs alone for the 2009/10 year are projected to reach £50m and hit £1.31bn over the 10-year period to 2019, according to the government's latest Identity Cards Scheme Cost Report, published in May 2009.