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Costs may force ID cards to be cheap ‘chip and pin

David Cracknell, Political Editor

THE government may water down its controversial ID card scheme after its own internal estimates revealed that the costs to the public have soared since it was first proposed.

Confidential Home Office findings show that the cost of the cards has already risen from £39 to £110, forcing ministers to consider ways of making savings. They are now suggesting collapsing the ID card into the passport, which UK citizens already pay £42 for, and scrapping the need for costly iris scans and fingerprinting.

Rather than having to provide biometric data such as this, ministers may introduce a cheaper “chip and pin” system like many banks have brought in, but this is considered less secure than unique iris patterns or fingerprints.

Opinion polls suggest that although the public will support ID cards if they are reasonably priced, backing could plummet if the cards cost £100 or more.

Charles Clarke, the home secretary, wants a compulsory scheme by 2010, which would mean many people would have to have the ID cards by the next general election. His own officials are more cautious, however, and warn that it is unrealistic to bring in such a complex scheme before 2013.

Even the government admits that the costs are rising, and this week a study by the London School of Economics (LSE) is expected to estimate the expense will be closer to £220 per person.

Clarke had a meeting last week with Gordon Brown, the chancellor, to discuss the costs of the ID card scheme, but government insiders deny there is any row between the two men.

Government whips are preparing for a rebellion over legislation relating to ID cards when it comes to the Commons this week. About 20 backbenchers, many of whom are concerned about the rising costs of the scheme, are expected to vote against it on Tuesday.

It will be the first real test of Tony Blair’s authority since he was re-elected with a slashed government majority of 66 last month. Their concerns are likely to be fuelled by the LSE study, which will put the projected cost at about £14 billion over 10 years, more than double the government’s estimates.

The Tories are likely to base their opposition to the scheme on costs, but will also cast doubt on the ability of the government to deliver.

It has emerged that EDS, the firm blamed for computer errors which led to hundreds of millions of pounds of overpayments in the Treasury’s tax credit scheme, is likely to be involved. The firm has been cited by ministers on the ID cards team, and is likely to form a consortium with other companies to provide the cards.

Doug Hoover, vice-president of EDS, said: “ID cards are a competency of EDS if you look at the (London Underground) Oyster card and you look at the Post Office). We feel that we have some solutions and some capabilities.”

But David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “It is extraordinary that the government is even considering letting the company responsible for the tax credits scandal anywhere near what it claims to be a crucial scheme for the security of British citizens.”