The government has finally launched the delayed procurement process for its controversial £5.3bn ID cards scheme in a move likely to inflame opposition because it comes during the parliamentary recess.
The ID cards and national identity register scheme is so contentious that in February the Conservative Party issued an unprecedented warning to potential suppliers that it would scrap the project if it came to power at the next election.
The latest delay to procurement came as Gordon Brown prepared to take over as prime minister in June. Then, James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, said procurement for IT systems to support the scheme was set to begin, but "we're not quite ready yet".
A tender notice for the National Identity Scheme (NIS) strategic supplier framework has now been published, to cover most of the scheme’s requirements.
“It is intended to award a number of projects called off against the framework each to run for up to 10 years in duration,” the notice says.
But some elements may be procured outside the framework, while the framework may also be used to procure for projects outside the NIS, it adds.
The framework will cover replacement of core application and enrolment processes for passports and the provision of desktop infrastructure for the Identity and Passport Service, along with the replacement and upgrading of existing systems for fingerprint matching and storage.
Other potential projects let under the framework are set to include
biometric recording, storage and matching, biographical background and identity checking services, passport and ID card production, biometric enrolment services, entitlement checking and associated case management services.
Home Office minister Meg Hillier said the framework procurement showed the government was “committed to introducing the scheme carefully and securely, minimising both cost and risk”.
Identity and Passport Service chief executive James Hall added: “Feedback from the supplier community has shaped our approach to procurement and will ensure we have a competitive process that enables innovative solutions and value for money.
“I am confident that the supplier community will step up to the mark in helping us construct this key national asset."
The Home Office said the scheme would require a range of capabilities from a combination of the private and public sectors, including “the ability to deliver large, complex, secure systems; to manage these systems to deliver reliable performance day after day; to respond flexibly as requirements and priorities evolve; to deliver a consistent, high-quality customer experience to the millions of people who will use the scheme; and to provide outstanding value for money”.
These elements are set to come under increasing public and political scrutiny as procurement and implementation of the scheme move on. But the government has lodged a high court appeal against a ruling that it must publish the “gateway reviews” on the progress of the scheme carried out by the Office of Government Commerce.