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The Home Office confirmed yesterday it is delaying awarding the key contract for the national ID card project - actually making the cards for UK citizens.

Fujitsu, IBM and Thales were all in the running to make the cards. But this contract will not now be awarded until autumn 2010 - after the general election, which at the moment is the Tories' to lose.

The timing is slightly suspicious - shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling yesterday wrote to all five suppliers warning them not to sign their lives away on a project the Tories have promised to scrap. Could it be that the suppliers told the Home Office they didn't want to sign anything just yet?

Some contracts have already been awarded - for the reduced trials at City of London and Manchester airports, for the database, for printing biometric passports and for the application process - but most of this will be required for updated passports and so is not a target for Tory cost cutting.

The Home Office said it had a contract in place for testing the cards on new members of staff at City and Manchester airports. A spokesman told the FT: "We will have a new contract in place by the time this contract comes to an end."

New Home Secretary Alan Johnson had already signalled his mixed feelings about the £4.9bn project. ®

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