U.K. marketNew U.K. approach to national ID card scheme

Published 25 March 2008

Technology is just one issue in the U.K. government’s overhaul of controversial identity plan

James Hall is the chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, the government department running the controversial £5.4 billion national identity card scheme. He talked to Computing’s Tom Young about the technology behind the latest developments in the scheme. Here are a few of the questions and answers:

Tom Young: The Home Office has announced revised plans for ID cards, which aim to cut £1 billion from the cost of the scheme. Where will these savings be made?

James Hall: We made a decision that we will work with the private sector to collect fingerprints and biometrics from each citizen on our behalf, rather than ­ as previously assumed ­doing that ourselves. It will work in the same way as having to pay to have your passport photograph taken today. We believe that several suppliers should emerge from that process and it will be considerably more convenient and cost effective.

We have also offered people a choice between having a passport and an ID card ­ rather than under the previous regime where you had to have both. A significant number of people will have one or the other rather than both ­ this will cut our costs. We have continued to look at the efficiency of operations and believe we can sharpen our pencils a bit more over this issue.

Young: Was lowering costs a factor in giving people the option to have their biometrics on a passport instead of the ID card?

Hall: It was one of two considerations. The first one was we have been listening to Sir James Crosby [who wrote a report on ID management for the Treasury] ­ he focuses on a consumer-led scheme. We have spent a lot of time trying to get in the mind of consumers. Second, it cuts costs.

Young: Have the new plans affected the technology aspects of the scheme?

Hall: There is not much change ­ our core technical approach is the same as it was originally. We are in the middle of a framework procurement at the moment and are due to complete that and select strategic suppliers by May. Our expectation is it will be four suppliers or thereabouts who will go into the second stage of the process.

Those suppliers will compete for an allocation of the total amount of work. That process will take place immediately after May with some decisions taken quickly and others over the months thereafter. The main decision that we announced in December 2006, in terms of reusing existing capabilities and assets, was our use of the Department of Work and Pensions customer information system ­ this remains a core part of our strategy.

Young: What do you think the reasons were for suppliers BAE, Accenture and Steria pulling out of the bidding for ID cards?

Hall: You ought to talk to them. The most recent dropout, Steria, told us it continues to be interested in participating in the scheme. The company concluded it was not appropriate to continue as a prime contractor, but it could still have a role as a subcontractor. There are no delays in the rollout, so if any of them had that perception I’m not sure why.

Young: How are you going to persuade people to take cards with so much hostility to the scheme?

Hall: We would like to issue cards to drivers and young people and private sector workers ­ people will take those cards because they see a benefit in having one. We want to work with the public and private sectors to help create business applications that are of value to the organisations that are going to create them, but which also are of benefit to people.

So if we are talking about opening a bank account, we want to create an environment that makes it cheaper for the bank to secure identity and cheaper for the young person to set up that account. We have only scratched the surface of potential ideas and we need to explore this some more over the next 12 months we want to have as many incentives in place as possible.