Fresh calls to bin ID cards as IT suppliers dwindle

With just five IT suppliers left to choose from and five parts of the contract to fill, critics are questioning how the complex £2bn scheme can hope to be run effectively or competitively

The government is facing more calls to cancel its ID card scheme after it announced that all of the five remaining IT suppliers have now been short-listed to deliver the system.

Opponents questioned whether the complex £2bn system has any chance of being run effectively or competitively when the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has just five companies left to choose from and five parts of the contract to fill.

CSC, EDS, Fujitsu, IBM and Thales made the shortlist to win the five parts of the single "framework contract", including a £500m deal to replace the existing passport application system, the £500m biometric fingerprint and photograph database, the £500m card production scheme, a £10m self-contained scheme to produce the cards for "critical" workers such as airport staff and a scheme to provide parts of a UK Border Agency case-management system.

The IPS will award the three- to 10-year procurement deals starting with the critical workers scheme this year, and will continue to award procurements through to late summer next year.

IPS executive director Bill Crothers said they had about 150 technical meetings with the final candidates to establish their suitability.

He told ZDNet.co.uk's sister site, silicon.com: "We decided on the five because all of them are qualified to do what we want.

"All five of these companies are absolutely past the standard that we expect.

"We have definitely got a great range and each contractor brings with them a host of talent from five to 15 sub-contractors."

Crothers said he was confident the different suppliers could gel together to deliver different parts of the ID card system, saying this was guaranteed by shared commercial terms, codes of practice and financial incentives and sanctions.

But shadow home secretary David Davis said: "Along with growing evidence of the risks and costs of ID cards, we have seen declining commercial interest, reflected in the dwindling numbers bidding for contracts.

"The case for ID cards has collapsed. Gordon Brown must now take a decision, bite the bullet and cancel this ill-fated project."

Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of ID card pressure group NO2ID, said: "How are they expecting to get best value for money when they are awarding contracts to every single company staying in the process? They need to get a proper specification for what they want to do and retender to get a proper competitive process — this is a recipe for disaster."

Crothers said the ID scheme would be rolled out over the next four years, starting with about 10 million "critical" workers in 2009, young people in 2010 and the rest of the UK public in 2011/12, when people will have a choice of a passport or ID card or both.

He denied the early mini-system for critical workers would be any less robust than the full ID card programme.

Foreign nationals coming to the UK will be issued with ID cards from November this year under a scheme run by the UK Border Agency.