Identity cards 'risk' means split contracts

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The Government will split the £5.5bn identity card programme into at least three contracts because no company is prepared to shoulder the risk of the hugely complex scheme alone.

The Home Office is expected to issue the contract to tender in the next six weeks in what will be one of the largest public sector IT projects ever.

The work will be split into separate contracts to manage the database of information stored on the cards, to manufacture the cards and to provide biometric technology for them.

But there is still uncertainty among IT companies who will be bidding for the work about how the scheme will work. This is despite the fact that the Government's 18-month "market sounding" exercise with the industry is almost over.

One senior executive of a major IT company said: "There is huge confusion going on. No one has the impression that the Home Office has decided what it wants yet. We're still in the dark."

EDS, Accenture, Sun Microsystems, Computer Sciences Corporation, Microsoft, BT and Fujitsu Siemens are interested in bidding for the contracts. Some are expected to team up with each other to make joint bids.

Nick Kalisperas, the public sector director at IT lobby group Intellect, said companies were still concerned that the project, once under way, could still be changed by politicians.

"The Home Office needs to publish the tendering information immediately. If not, companies who get involved face reputational risk if the identity card scheme is delayed further or constantly tinkered with. There needs to be clarity in the procurement. We need to take the politics out of it."

Last month, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, amended the identity card Bill after it was rejected by the House of Lords. People renewing their passports will now not have to get an ID card until after 2010.