Tories urge contractors to shun ID card deals

The Conservatives say contractors should not engage in the 'hugely expensive' tendering process for work on ID cards, when the scheme could be scrapped after the next election
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The Conservatives have urged a group of technology suppliers not to sign contracts for work related to ID cards, as the party will scrap the scheme if it is elected to power.

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that the Tories want to remind the five companies that have been selected to bid for contracts to provide ID cards that abandoning the National Identity Scheme is "firm policy" for the party.

"Contractors will be devoting a large amount of time and effort to the tendering process, when there is absolutely no certainty [the scheme] will continue after a general election," said Green. "If we win, those contracts will not be carried through."

On Wednesday, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said in a statement that he had written to the five suppliers to deliver the same warning. The letter referred to "poisoned pill" contractual break clauses that might be designed to prevent the cancellation of the project. A break clause calls for money to be paid by one side if the contract is not fulfilled.

"I am increasingly concerned that the government is putting in place contractual arrangements that are designed to tie the hands of a future government," Grayling said in his statement.

The Home Office on Wednesday denied that the government had put contracts in place designed to perpetuate the National Identity Scheme, saying break clauses in contracts were accepted legal practice.

"It is normal and fully within government guidelines to include break clauses in contracts of this kind," according to a Home Office statement. "It is a decision for the government of the day to determine whether to invoke such clauses, but equally it would be wholly inappropriate to do so on the basis of opposition policy."

Former home secretary Jacqui Smith told parliament in March that to cancel the scheme for two of the contractors would incur £40m in costs for the government. Grayling's letter referred to two ID scheme-related contracts: one given to CSC to upgrade passport application systems, and another given to IBM to supply the biometric database.

The programme to introduce biometric passports will be carried on by a Conservative government, according to Grayling's letter.

Speaking to ZDNet UK, Green cautioned the current Labour government against pushing on with its ID card plan. "If the government now wrote contracts recklessly, including extra provisions that cost the taxpayer money, that would be outrageous behaviour by ministers," said Green. "Contractors can't be guaranteed to win, and bidding is hugely expensive."

CSC declined to comment on Wednesday. IBM had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

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