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Tech firms tangle with Tories on ID cards

Conservatives put big business in its place

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The IT industry has found itself in a handbagging spat with shadow home secretary David Davis over the Conservative party's plans to ditch ID cards should they win power from Labour.

Davis' "official warning" to government said a democratic clause should be written into contracts with ID system suppliers so they could be scrapped if the electorate demanded so.

John Higgins, chairman of IT trade body Intellect, promptly wrote to Davis warning him that the IT industry held such sway over the British economy that the Conservatives would be foolish to mess with them.

Davis's response, sent yesterday, upbraided industry over its creepy anticipation that it would get lashings of gravy from a government project designed to encroach on people's civil liberties.

Higgins had argued that the interests of big business should take precedent over the will of the British electorate.

"It is highly likely that the manner of this intervention will undermine the confidence of the supplier community in any future Conservative government honouring other contractual commitments which may have been entered into by previous administrations."

In other words, should the Conservatives win an election on a promise to ditch ID cards, the previous government's contractual obligations to the IT industry should prevent the new manifesto from being implemented.

Davis retorted: "Your claim to be neither for or against the policy of introducing ID cards in the UK, given the clear commercial interest of a number of your members, is simply disingenuous."

Intellect is not unused to playing politics itself, despite its latest predictable tribute to the eminent efficacy of commerce.

By Higgins' reckoning, there is no place for empathy in politics, only cold reason. "It will potentially make companies wary of entering into any public sector contracts at all," he said.

What actually might happen, should the Conservatives get a democratic clause written into the ID contracts and should the electorate subsequently vote to have them abolished, is that the government could spend its money on something more useful, and industry would adjust its seat and suckle on a different teat.

But that wasn't all. Higgins warned that the contractual uncertainty of a Conservative electoral win would put undue risk on suppliers and force them to compensate with higher prices, which would "result in a less favourable environment for the taxpayer".

Davis dismissed this "thinly veiled threat" and suggested Higgins might benefit from reading the work of the Public Accounts Committee on the best way to run IT projects.

And industry hadn't appreciated the "parameters of the public debate" or the "depth of opposition" to ID cards. Davis said Higgins' position was "incredible and insulting".

He didn't answer Higgins' invitation to join Intellect's cosy little coterie - a rare privilege indeed. ®

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