The government has delayed procurement for its controversial £5.3bn ID card scheme as Gordon Brown prepares to take over as prime minister.
James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, said a "major" procurement process for IT systems to support the scheme was set to begin, but "we're not quite ready yet".
Hall, speaking at Gartner’s identity management conference in London, did not say when procurement would start.
The delay could signal a rethink as the long-anticipated transfer of power from prime minister Tony Blair to his chancellor, Gordon Brown, finally takes place. Brown’s arrival in Number 10 is expected to produce shifts on some of the more contentious areas of government policy.
A senior source in the supplier community said he had been expecting the procurement notice to be published by the end of the month. But he said the handover to Brown was the probable reason for a delay. "If there is a delay, I'd imagine it's only because of teh current political circumstances," he said.
The government is under increased pressure over the scheme, with the Office of Government Commerce set to make a high court appeal to prevent the “gateway reviews” of the scheme so far from being made public.
Conservative leaders have also cast doubt on the programme’s longer term future, pledging to axe ID cards should the party be returned to power at the next election. In an unprecedented move, shadow home secretary David Davis wrote to potential contractors, warning that they “may wish to consider carefully the financial viability of any contract, with the present Government, to participate in this project”.
Last week, home office minister Liam Byrne spoke up for the ID card scheme and its accompanying national identity register, saying this would in time become part of the critical national infrastructure.
But Byrne implicitly acknowledged public and political controversy over the ID register, saying parliamentary scrutiny of the ID scheme should be beefed up. He announced the creation of a national identity scheme commissioner to oversee the scheme’s operation and the integrity of information recorded in the register.
The government has already stepped back from its original plans. A strategic action plan published in December outlined a slimmed down project, abandoning moves to create a dedicated database for the national identity register in favour of using existing government databases.
But question marks continue to be raised about the scheme, with the government admitting last month that the projected 10-year costs of the scheme had risen by £400m since October.
Estimates by IT capacity and performance consultancy Capacitas, published in February, suggested the scheme’s costs could eventually match those of the £12.4bn NHS National Programme for IT.