Identity cards will be scrapped within one hundred days, a step expected to save the public almost £900 million.
The controversial cards are being dumped as part of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s Identity Documents Bill. The Bill, awaiting parliamentary approval and royal assent this summer, will also put an end to the National Identity Register.
That database was due to be shared with second generation biometric passports and contained the fingerprints and other details.
The government claims that by scrapping the scheme it has saved £800 million of ongoing operational costs that would have been booked over the next 10 years. But much of that expenditure had been intended to be recovered anyway, through fees as people signed up to the cards and passports. This means scrapping the scheme will not significantly dent the government's budget deficit.
The minimum savings the government expects to count on are £86 million, even though supplier contracts had totalled £1.1 billion – including a £385 million contract with CSC and a £265 million deal with IBM.
The savings figure is significantly lower than planned contract expenditure, partly owing to cancellation clauses, and also because both contracts involve work on biometric passports, of which the first generation will continue to exist. Analysts have said it could be difficult and costly to disentangle the work.
The move will please anti-ID cards campaigners who had seen the database as an encroachment on civil liberties. But deputy prime minister Nick Clegg today said eliminating ID cards was “just the tip of the iceberg” in dismantling a “surveillance state”.
There would be a series of “radical reforms” to dismantle other forms of surveillance, Clegg said. The databases of phone calls and emails, formerly due to be held by internet and phone companies with £2 billion public funding, as well as the £224 million ContactPoint database of children, are due to be scrapped under future bills.
But no details have been given on the multibillion database of NHS patient records, which before the election both the Tories and Liberal Democrats had publicly pledged to scrap. A recent coalition programme document appeared to sit on the fence on this issue, saying only that the government would give people “control of their own health records”.