A fresh delay to the identity cards programme means work will not start until 2010, or never at all if there is a change of government.
Two weeks after Alan Johnson became home secretary, it has emerged the Home Office has delayed the project and may not award contractors to produce the actual cards until autumn 2010, the Financial Times reported.
Fujitsu, IBM and Thales were all bidding to be selected as supplier to design and produce the cards, reportedly the most lucrative deal in the £4.8bn programme. CSC and IBM already have IT contracts.
The news comes a day after the Conservative Partywarned suppliers they would scrap the whole programme if they won the general election, due to take place before June next year.
In April, CSC won a £385 million deal to develop a passport and ID card application system, and IBM won a £265 million contract to build a fingerprint and biometric database for passports and ID cards.
The two projects - which focus on biometrics and passport systems - will also be relevant to work on biometric passports and the relevant supporting databases, and will proceed regardless of the future of ID cards, and which government won the election.
The government position on the future of ID cards remains unclear, according to Edgar Whitley, an IT expert at the London School of Economics. He told the Financial Times that there were mixed messages coming from Whitehall, adding: "if everyone knew what hymn book they were reading, then I’m sure they would be singing the same hymn".
Johnson this week insisted ID cards were a “manifesto commitment”, but speculation is rife he was planning a U-turn on the project.