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'Lunatic' Smith doubles ID card costs for Mancunians

Voluntary rollout addresses vexed 'who am I?' question

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Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today confirmed that Manchester volunteers will be allowed to pay a total of £60 for an ID card from later this year. The price tag on the ID card will remain £30, but the Home Office is now estimating the cost of biometric enrollment, payable to the high street stores it hopes to recruit, as a further £30.

And in other news, Smith was described as a "lunatic" by banned US shock jock Michael Savage, now threatening to sue Smith for defamation, and as dead meat by the Sun, which reckons she'll be out of a job any minute now. Or possibly already - busy day, Jacqui.

Even the Home Office concedes that "only a small number of volunteers in Manchester" will be able to enrol for an ID card before the end of the year, and while this is scheduled to happen "from Autumn 2009", the National Identity Service Cost Report, published today, reports that contracts for passport design and production and card design and production are to be awarded "later in 2009".

Nor, despite interest from photographic stores, the National Pharmacy Association and the Post Office, have any High Street partners been signed up yet, far less started rolling out biometric enrollment equipment.

So, small publicity stunt, not many issued? Getting at least some ID cards into the hands of Mancunians will however have some effect in locking the ID card scheme into the system prior to next year's general election. The Home Office also seems to have been relatively successful in convincing sections of the press that much of the claimed cost of ID cards will have to be spent on upgrading to the next generation of biometric passports anyway (£3.95 billion claimed for this), leaving just £1.19 billion specifically being spent on ID cards available for cutting by any incoming Tory administration.

To some extent, this is true, as contracts for the enrollment system and biometric database covering both passports and ID cards have already been awarded, to CSC and IBM. Speaking on the Today programme this morning, however Dr Edgar Whitley of the LSE commented that the addition of fingerprints to passports was not, as the Home Office frequently claims, an international obligation but a political decision. The cost of this would however remain if a Tory government did not cancel fingerprints for passports. And if it didn't also move to dismantle the database or bring it under control, it might find itself cancelling little more than the plastic (and agreeing with David Blunkett, effectively).

Today's Cost Report also only covers cost to the Home Office, not ID-related costs to other government departments, businesses and to citizens (e.g that extra £30 and the spiralling cost of a passport). It also only covers forward costs, excluding an estimated £250 million already spent. ®

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