Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Thursday August 9, 2007
The future of the ID Card that is supposed to keep track of the population who are living in the UK working here is in doubt after ministers halted the programme this week. The moratorium follows an admission that the original £234b costing “proved to be optimistic”.
Unions say the 2004 estimate has now risen to £950b. The rollout to 15% of the population next month and 15 more by the end of the year has been cancelled.
The new computer system is supposed to underpin the introduction of “end-to-end management” of British Citizens through the National Identity Register (NIR) which oversees the Identity and Passport service. But Harry Fletcher, of Napo, the probation officers’ union, yesterday claimed the project, which is six months late and supposed to be in full operation by next July, was “close to collapse”.
The Ministry of Justice last night confirmed that a “rapid review” of the NIR system is under way. Ministers are to decide in mid-September how much of the project can be salvaged. It is expected that it will be adopted in a scaled-down form for the Civil Servants in England and Wales but is unlikely to be rolled out across the whole population. Cancellation could involve paying the contractors, EDS, a £50m penalty.
The system is supposed to provide a single database of all people in England and Wales and their histories, instantly accessible to the 700,000 staff in the Civil Service system. It is designed to give every person a number “for life” so that their record of offending, financial transactions, anti social behaviour and medical treatments can be logged.
The justice minister, David Hanson, has asked for a “full audit trail” on the £155m spent so far on the programme. The system has been tested on the Isle of Wight at a cost of £69m but they are not linked up to any other part of the Civil Service IT infrastructure. A similar trial planned in Northamptonshire did not go ahead.
Roger Hill, director of the Probation Service, told chief officers on Monday that the original costing had proved optimistic: “We have advised ministers that we will need to undertake a fundamental review of the work, to return to an affordable programme plan.” The director general of the NIR, Phil Wheatley, has told staff: “It is obviously disappointing that the ID Card project will not be provided as originally anticipated.”
Mr Fletcher said: “The whole project appears to have been badly managed since its inception. It is arguably an outrageous waste of public money. As a consequence of the problems, Civil Service staff will now have to use IT systems that are not fit for purpose.”
Typical of the government to bury bad news in the summer.