ID cards: more advisers get the call

Three new firms will add to the £35m spent so far on consultancy
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The Home Office is set to add to the £35m it has already spent on consultants for its controversial identity card scheme, with the appointment of three new advisory firms.

The Home Office wants the consultancies to advise on technical aspects of the scheme such as the IT systems it will use and design authorisation.

This is despite the fact that the IT management consultancy PA Consulting, which was appointed in May 2004 as lead development partner on the project, is being retained. A spokeswoman for the Home Office said that the new firms were needed to carry out "specific technical work".

The Home Office has already begun vetting potential candidates for the new consultancy work. They are thought to include Accenture, Capgemini, Fujitsu Services, IBM and Logica CMG.

It is not known how much the new contracts are worth, but the imminent appointments of new firms, alongside the continued involvement of PA Consulting, highlight how much money is being spent on consultants for the project. It will also raise question marks over what PA Consulting has achieved in its 22 months at the Home Office.

The PA consulting contract accounts for most of the £35m bill accumulated since April 2003. A company spokeswoman referred questions to the Home Office.

David Winnick MP, an outspoken Labour critic of the scheme, said: "The Government was warned at the beginning what an expensive venture this would be."

The timetable for the introduction of ID cards has slipped dramatically. The Home Office was supposed to start the process of appointing companies to actually design, build and run the system in the spring, but this deadline was missed. As a result, the new Home Secretary, John Reid, announced a review in July. The scheme's full introduction will now be delayed, with only foreign nationals being issued identity cards in 2008.

But the IT firms involved are still in the dark about when, how and in what form the scheme will be implemented.

Nick Kalisperas, director of IT trade association Intellect, said: "We are looking for clarity on this procurement and how the Home Office intends us to proceed. An environment where there is rumour and counter-rumour is counter-productive for the delivery of a successful scheme."

It now seems likely that the Government will overhaul existing department IT systems gradually so that they become compatible with the scheme, rather than build a separate new central system to operate the project. It is calling this an "incremental approach".

The Government's IT projects came under further scrutiny last week when Accenture announced that it was pulling out of the £6bn project to upgrade NHS computer systems, which is running two years behind schedule.