ID cards: contracts on offer

IT contracts worth between £50m and £500m are a step closer thanks to the opening of a £2bn procurement programme to build and run a national identity scheme in the UK.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) posted a tender notice on Friday, inviting companies to apply for a place among a pool of suppliers to meet the scheme's technological needs.

The department said the tender will pave the way for a framework agreement, creating a list of prequalified suppliers with a set of agreed contract terms.

It will select a small group of the best IT suppliers in the market, who will work with the IPS and its partner agencies to deliver capabilities for the scheme.

The two largest tenders, each for about £500m, will cover the identity database and handling of applications and enrolment.

The provision of desktop services for the IPS is also included in the current NIS (National Identity Scheme) Strategic Supplier Framework.

All other elements of the ID programme, including ID cards, are described as "potential projects" and are subject to both change and approval.

Aside from leading IT suppliers, the 10-year procurement programme will turn the heads of niche IT firms, such as card manufacturers, the hi-tech group Intellect reportedly said on Friday.

Fujitsu Services, IBM and Accenture are just some of the expected bidders for the £5.7bn scheme, while BT has told CUK it is "naturally interested" in contributing to the programme.

The first contracts are expected to be handed out in May, though bidders will be able to see the competition as early as next month, when a conference will be held by The Home Office.

But all of them could be axed if a Tory-run government wins office, following a reported vow by David Davies, shadow home secretary, that his party would "scrap the costly white elephant."

NO2ID, the anti-identity scheme lobbyist, said in April last year that IT suppliers which bid for work should note that state funds may simply dry up whenever the next general election is called.

The government has since refused to say how much compensation might be owed to IT suppliers should the scheme be axed by an incoming Conservative government.

But last week James Hall, chief executive of the identity and passport service, extinguished the industry's fears, according to the Financial Times.

He told the paper: "There is no technology contract left in government that does not extend beyond the life of an existing parliament and therefore by definition commits a future government."

Separately, Mr Hall added that feedback from industry has helped "refine our vision of how the [identity] scheme will be delivered."

Announcing the posting of the tender notice in the Official Journal of the European Union, Home Office Minister Meg Hillier reflected: "It has become increasingly clear that the methods we have traditionally relied on to prove ID are outdated, inefficient, and increasingly open to abuse.

"That has to end, and that is why we are taking the scheme forward."

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