Whitehall leak casts doubt on ID cards

TONY Blair's multi-billion pound plan for a national identity card could be severely delayed or even abandoned due to the government's shambolic management of the scheme, according to Whitehall officials.

In an embarrassing leak, e-mails between senior managers at the Home Office yesterday cast doubt on the department's ability to introduce ID cards by 2008, as the government has promised. The cards will be voluntary, but ministers want to make them compulsory.

David Foord, the ID card project director at the Office of Government Commerce, which oversees the huge procurement process for the scheme, said it was "a project continuing to be driven by an arbitrary end-date rather than reality". The government's timetable and the structure of the massive IT project means "we are setting ourselves up to fail", Mr Foord wrote in an e-mail last month, which was published yesterday.

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Peter Smith, the acting commercial director of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) at the Home Office, which is responsible for the ID card scheme, replied to Mr Foord saying he could not argue with his damning conclusions.

In an even more incendiary observation, Mr Smith revealed his staff were planning for the possibility ministers will scrap the ID card plan altogether. Because of that, he told Mr Foord that the Home Office was making sure contracts for projects linked to the ID card scheme were being designed to survive if the bigger scheme is dropped.

"The procurements we will (we hope) launch in the next few months ... are all necessary (essential) to sustain IPS business as usual, and we are designing the strategy so that they are all sensible and viable contracts in their own right, EVEN IF the ID card gets canned completely," Mr Smith wrote to Mr Foord on 8 June.

The Home Office insists everything is on track to deliver the ID card project as promised. But as the government's timetable may be impossible, officials are working on a watered-down form of the ID card scheme that could meet the 2008 deadline.

The Prime Minister is a passionate advocate of ID cards, arguing they will bring huge benefits in the fight against terrorism, illegal immigration and benefit fraud. However, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have said the money for ID cards - 8 billion, according to the government, but up to 20 billion according to independent estimates - would be better spent on conventional policing and security measures.

Phil Booth, National Co-ordinator of the NO2ID campaign, yesterday said: "This whole scheme has been built on deception. The government has systematically misled the public, bullied parliament and anyone who dared to speak against them and wasted tens of millions already on a scheme that officials now admit is unworkable."