IT firms told to flock to ID card project

'Any companies involved in IT should stick their snout in the trough now, because it's going to be a gravy train,' says one expert

In the wake of the passing of the ID card bill in the House of Commons on Monday, experts from the London School of Economics (LSE) have predicted that IT companies will be rushing to tender for government business in a technology feeding frenzy.

"Any companies involved in IT should stick their snout in the trough now, because it's going to be a gravy train," said Professor Ian Angell, head of the LSE's department of information systems. "Some companies are worried about the effect on their brand when the scheme fails, as it will. Don't worry — just blame the government."

"This is a huge opportunity for IT companies, as there are no downsides. Bid for everything — the system will be so huge, there won't be enough manpower in the country to deliver. And you can put in ridiculous prices, because the system won't work. It's a Mad Hatter's tea party," added Angell.

LSE has been a long-standing critic of the proposed introduction of national identity cards in the UK. On Monday, MPs voted in favour of a proposal that anyone applying for or renewing a passport from 2008 will be required to apply for an ID card and have their biometric details added to a national identity register.

The government also plans to introduce an identity verification service for public and private sector organisations such as banks, which would generate private sector revenue for the government. The government would provide access to a National Identity Register to vetted organisations.

"ID cards will allow accredited organisations to verify people. We will offer a range of verification services for those organisations," said Andy Burnham MP, the Home Office minister responsible for ID cards and passports, at a Westminster eForum seminar on Tuesday.

Professor Angell said that the costs to business for the verification service would ultimately be passed on to their customers.

"Access to a database doesn't come for free. The government can claw money back from business for the costs of the project. However, the cost to business will be zero, because companies will pass costs on to their customers," said Angell.

The LSE believes that the costs of implementing the overall ID card scheme will ultimately fall on the taxpayer, as the Home Office will fund the set-up costs, then other publicly funded government departments would buy in.

"The costs will be absorbed into departmental budgets, which will have to be recovered through taxation. Ultimately the taxpayer will shoulder the main burden of the costs." said Simon Davies, visiting fellow at LSE.