IT firms 'clueless' over ID card scheme

UK IT suppliers eager to start work on the incoming biometric identity card scheme face delays of up to three months until they receive contracts from the Home Office.

The Department is being accused of failing to start the procurement process on time, in its latest blunder which could force delays to the national roll out of the project.

Companies were originally told contracts covering the development, installation and maintenance of technology would be awarded in June, but the start date has been pushed back to September.

So says disclosures obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, which revealed that one leading IT company is clueless as to the project's specifications.

"We still know nothing about what the Home Office requires of us," its unnamed CEO told the newspaper.

"The private sector was expecting the tendering process to have started by now. But that is looking extremely unlikely. The longer we wait, the more unlikely it will be that the government meets its timetable for the programme."

The Home Office has responded, citing the awarding of IT contracts for the programme as an "incremental process."

The reassurance will fail to alleviate critics' concern that recent administrative errors in the Home Office are trickling down to worsen the delays in beginning the identity scheme. The first parts of the scheme are due for completion in 2008.

A spokesman said, "We have taken extensive soundings from industry and the results of these soundings will be released in the next few weeks."

He added that no date could be issued to suggest when contracts would be awarded, but said a notice would be published in the Official Journal of the European Union, after industry views were released.

Critics have slammed the government for the delay to procurement, saying the slow process of awarding contracts is at odds with the apparent urgency of the programme.

Phil Booth, national coordinator of NO2ID, the campaign group, said, "Having forced legislation through, saying it was of the utmost importance to national security and public services, it seems bizarre that the Home Office is taking to long to issue specifications when they have had truly years to prepare them."

Another warning to IT suppliers came in April, when Mr Booth told CUK, "Any supplier bidding for a chunk of the project, with both of the main opposition parties committed to 'tearing the scheme down', is going to have to factor in that funding may simply dry up in 2009 or whenever the next general election is called.

"Being a part of a project that is already unpopular with at least half the population will carry with it some significant business risk over which the Home Office appears to have little to no control.

"Successful bidders may not only end up being left high and dry, they could also get serious amounts of egg on their faces."

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