The cost of ID cards: £2,857 each

By Ian Dunt

ID cards could cost as much as £2,857 each based on the amount of money the government has already committed to the pilot project, politics.co.uk can exclusively reveal.

The figure dwarfs former home secretary Jacqui Smith’s claims that ID cards will cost individuals no more than £30 each, unless the government intends to heavily subsidise their production.

A Freedom of Information request to the Home Office by politics.co.uk revealed the total money spent to date by the department to “design, build, test and operate the technology to support issue of the first ID cards” stands at £20 million over five years.

Meanwhile, the Home Office’s own annual report says it intends to issue ID cards to “7,000 British nationals” this year.

Taking the £20 million already spent on the development of ID cards and dividing this by the 7,000 people the Home Office expects to issue them to produces an individual cost per card of £2,857.

ANALYSIS: How politics.co.uk reached its ID cards figure

Even if the Home Office expanded the pilot scheme to a further 7,000 British nationals each year until 2014, ID cards would still cost £571 each to produce and there is no indication that the costs of producing the cards could come down.

In fact, anti-ID card campaign group No2ID believes that given the government has already committed £20 million to the current project, costs could spiral.

Former shadow home secretary David Davies told politics.co.uk: “This is yet another piece of evidence that the Jacqui Smith estimate of the cost of the ID card is not just wrong but wholly implausible.

“While of course the costs will come down as start-up expenses fall, the raw truth is that every single government IT project of anything approaching this size has overrun by several hundred per cent and generally failed to deliver.”

The £20m figure constitutes a small increase on the previous costing, which had put the contract at £18 million over four years.

Phil Booth, national coordinator of No2ID, told politics.co.uk: “The true cost of ID cards is spiralling out of control, just as predicted.

“While the Home Office may waive the initial fee for the first few airside workers forced to register, its own figures show this blatant piece of ministerial face-saving is to cost the taxpayer thousands per card.

“And it has yet to reveal the lifetime cost – fees, charges and fines that will inflate the price for anyone foolish or unlucky enough to find themselves prey to the government’s ID regime.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne told politics.co.uk: “Whatever the final cost of an ID card per person turns out to be, it will clearly have been a huge waste of money.

“Instead of spending billons on a scheme which will do nothing to reduce crime or keep people safe, ministers should use the money to put extra police on the streets.

“If Alan Johnson pushes ahead with this scheme, once larger numbers of people are asked to sign up, he will soon find that it is a laminated poll tax.”

The government is currently rolling out the first stage of its ID cards project through the Critical Workers Identity Cards (CWIC) scheme. This only includes air-side workers – those that work beyond passport control at an airport terminal – at Manchester and London City airports.

The CWIC scheme is the first pilot of ID cards to UK nationals but the 7,000 British nationals referred to in the annual report includes a voluntary roll-out scheme in Manchester as well.

Repeated questions to the Home Office about what proportion of the 7,000 figure is constituted by the Manchester roll-out were refused a response.

Home Office officials also declined to say how the department had come to the estimate of how many people would apply for a card, despite there being no historical precedent for the scheme.

Asked how many people the CWIC scheme would involve, the Home Office said because further rollouts had not yet been finalised it was not possible to estimate the total number of workers affected.

“The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has awarded a contract to Thales UK Ltd for a period of five years to design, build, test and operate the technology to support issue of the first ID cards; total costs to date, including this contract, are £20m,” the Home Office reply reads.

“The first group of critical workers to be included in the scheme are airside workers. We are working with other industries in order to prioritise further rollouts on the basis of benefits to additional groups of critical workers. Hence, it is not yet possible to estimate the final number of cards that will be issued to critical workers.”

While the costs of individual cards could drop once the project is up and running, the £2,857 figure is also a cautious one, because it takes into account the subjects of both the CWIC programme and the Manchester roll-out while the £20 million figure applies only to CWIC.

An Identity and Passport Service spokesperson poured cold water on the calculations, calling the figure “incorrect”.

“We have always been very open about ID card costs and last month published the annual ID card costs report,” the spokesperson told politics.co.uk.

“All the costs of issuing the cards will be covered by the fee income it generates. We remain fully committed to rolling out ID cards which will provide the public with a single, simply and secure way for individuals to prove their identity and safeguard their details.”

New home secretary Alan Johnson is currently setting up a review of the ID cards scheme, from ‘first principles’.