A leading critic of the Government's identity cards programme has lashed out at the official estimated cost of the scheme.
Professor Ian Angell, of the information systems department at the London School of Economics, told ZDNet UK that the report issued to Parliament on Monday was a "political document" that dodged the complexity inherent in such a massive IT project.
Professor Angell pointed out that Monday's document — entitled "First Section 37 Report to Parliament about the Likely Costs of the ID Cards Scheme" — devoted just half a page out of 13 to actual figures. These state that set-up costs will be £290m and operational costs will total £5.1bn over 10 years.
The rest of the document mostly covers the supposed benefits of the scheme and the terms of the Identity Cards Act 2006.
"They've won the political argument [through the introduction of the Act] so why do they spend most of the report making political arguments? The real issue is the costs that they claim," Professor Angell said on Tuesday, adding: "There is no way of evaluating costs for huge future IT projects — it's a leap in the dark."
One particular paragraph in the report refers to the requirement, in Section 37 of the Identity Cards Act, that the Government provide Parliament with a six-monthly costs report, saying: "The requirement to publish six-monthly cost reports to Parliament is not necessarily aligned with the programme's lifecycle. As a result, it may not always be possible to provide updated costs estimates in each report."
Professor Angell suggested this indicated the Home Office was misinterpreting the intention behind the cost report requirement, saying: "A cost report is a cost report — you should know how much you have spent to date. What Parliament did not want is the latest guesstimate, it's 'How much have you spent so far?'".
"Politics has taken over from reality," Angell continued. "Basically we're making a very straightforward point. More thought must be given to the complexity. The idea of hoping it will all just work out is just crossing your fingers. With any large computer project, it doesn't matter what it is, it is complex."
A comprehensive reply from the LSE to the Government's report is imminent, although Professor Angell himself will not be a co-author. However, a preliminary response issued by the LSE's Identity Project team has welcomed the report, particularly the inclusion for the first time of set-up costs, but also criticised it on several counts.
These included pointing out a lack of information on the procurement process and technology trials, as well as the omission of costs relating to employers checking their employees' identities. The LSE team's own cost analysis has put the scheme's total bill at £19bn or more, rather than £5.4bn.
The LSE team also argued that, while the Government claims 70 percent of the £5.4bn would have to be spent anyway in complying with biometric passport requirements in the Schengen area, it "fails to point out that the UK is not subject to these requirements".
Professor Angell has been a long-standing critic of the ID cards scheme, having previously referred to it as a "diabolical shambles" and suggested that the Government did not understand the nature of large-scale IT projects.