back to article Contractors dodge ID cards axe

The two biggest contractors on the doomed ID cards scheme will escape any serious financial impact, as the government will not cancel their deals. With today's announcement that ID cards will be scrapped within 100 days, it's emerged CSC and IBM will simply have the scale of their tasks reduced. CSC is operating the 10-year …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ... an incoming government isn't bound by the contracts created by it's predecessors? If it is, then simply pass a law that says otherwise. Problem solved. Would also stop IT projects running on endlessly for years, as all company's wanting to supply the government, would make sure that the job was completed and paid up by the next general election.

    1. Chemist

      Re : Surely...

      Are you suggesting a new government should renege on debts as well ??

      1. idasben

        Re: Surely...

        Exactly, if the government just decided to turn round and renege on all contracts it would effectively stop anyone trading with the public sector for a year before the general election, in case the contract was cancelled.

        Basically this would mean 20-25% of the time, the government would be unable to get anyone to sign a competatively priced contract as they would effectively know it was going to be cancelled by the next government, even if it was good value just to fulfil politcal whims...

        1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

          competatively priced contract

          idasben says:

          "...the government would be unable to get anyone to sign a competatively priced contract..."

          Was that a joke? Exactly when does the government ever get a competatively priced contract?

      2. peter_dtm

        of course

        given that from the outset both libdems & tories made it plain that the ID scheme would be scrapped; then the companies concerned should have built that into the pricing

        since the whole policy was therefore at significant risk I somehow think it would be worth going to court & forcing full cancellation with out compensation

        Yes we want government contracts to be nervous & aware that politcally driven schemes WILL BE cancelled with no compensation

        Brown's government forced so many things on us; I have no sympathies for those prepared to profit from blatant attempts at dictatorship

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters


      While you may be correct in thinking that a parliament cannot bind the hands of its successors, when it comes to contracts with govt departments those contracts are binding.

      However, AFAIAA, there are normally get-out clauses should a contract be linked to the implementation of a particular policy (such as ID cards).

      It seems here that all the infrastructure to run an ID card system is going to remain in place, ready to be reactivated somewhere down the line.

      Somehow, I had a feeling that, despite the promises, this one wasn't going to go away in a hurry.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      You're thinking of America

      Where Uncle Sam can unilaterally cancel *without* compensation *any* contract, not just the last administrations.

      However stopping *any* government putting poison pill clauses in contracts (there is an "Unfair Contract Clauses Act," which AFAIK does what it says on the name) but weather it's *acted* upon (especially by governments and their con-tractors) is another matter.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The courts

      would rule against the government.

      That would put the government on a collision course with the in this country is made by parliament but defined by judges. Any such move to make law to enable government to renege on contracts with no recourse to compensation would simply mean that nobody would trust government again....not that many do anyway...

  2. nichomach

    And as I said on April 9th...

    "Yes, there's a lot of waste and that needs tightening up, yes there are too many consultants, but you know damn well that the Tories won't actually cut *consultants* because Capita, Accenture et al are their bessie mates."

    Clairvoyance WIN. Didn't need to black out for 137 seconds to call THAT one right, did I?

    1. Optymystic

      Surely not

      A contract is a contract whether with a government or anyone else, which is why so many of the proposed savings were such a farce. And in law, contract principles are huge such that great swathes of the law would unravel were contract doctrines unplugged

      Watch out now for organizations like some local authorities which have contracts using funds which are about to be cut. Very nasty situation, government gives you a specific purpose grant of x which you then use to contract for services at around about x, government then turns round and says, you know that x we gave you well........

  3. Small Mind

    Never straightforward

    Contracts have termination and exit clauses. IT and other services suppliers will make sure that if a contract is to be terminated early 'at convenience' (e.g. change of policy due to new government or whatever), they have sufficient cover to wind the operation down in a way which makes commercial sense.

    Hence I do wonder about the real ability to save by cancelling or cutting projects - not saying this should not be done, but that it is contracts yet to be signed which have the greatest potential for savings, not so much existing ones which will have early termination and cancellation clauses.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Depends on the contract

      There are reasonable termination clauses and clearly unreasonable ones. However, the termination bit is the one that is least often looked into so most companies try to stick unreasonable ones first until you slap them across the wrist.

      1. Small Mind

        RE: Depends on the contract

        Yes that's true, but I do get involved in contract reviews and most sensible companies are aware that unreasonable termination clauses (either side) are subject to challenge should the situation arise. This is costly and the outcome unknown - so there are less of these flying about.

        In a reasonably complex programme, there will be third parties the prime supplier is contracting, and this requires some kind of back to back cover or else someone is going to get shafted. For example, if I sub contract with a hosting company for 5 years who then gives me a good discount for a long commitment, there will be often more than the pro-rata to pay up if I need to terminate before the natural expiry of the contract.

        Thus even 'reasonable' termination clauses can still be quite expensive to get out of. However I do take your original point, just that I wasn't really talking about unreasonable clauses in the first place.

  4. Alexander Kaye
    Thumb Down

    @ Dibbley

    if that law was passed no 3rd party firms would enter into any agreement with the government because of the risk that the new govt could cancel the contract and the company loses x millions of pounds.

  5. dave 151

    call me sceptical but...

    what's the betting that in a year or two there will be an EU directive on "European Identity Harmonisation"? and we start all over again but this time on a Euro scale.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Standard Harmonisation Identity Tag?

      Well, they've not exactly got rid of all the mechanism needed to produce cards. Just announced they aren't going to print any more - yet.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        People Opression Organisation

        Maybe they'll the the S.H.I.T scheme

    2. Anton Ivanov

      There is one already. It is called Shengen

      UK however opted out.

      As the Shengen system has actually demonstrated that it works and provides value for the money this optout was not necessarily a good idea.

      1. JohnG

        Internal Control

        Schengen works (sort of) for countries with internal controls - i.e. the requirement for everyone to carry ID in public and a law that allows police to check anyone's identity. Britain has not had such measures since WWII and the ID card scheme is at the centre of this issue.

        Schengen hasn't prevented large numbers of illegal immigrants entering the Schengen area, something you can see if you take a short drive around Calais/Coquelles or look at the registrations of cars parked near building sites across Western Europe.

  6. 0laf

    Cutz meanz jobz

    The majority of spending goes on wages. Most of the cost saving you will have seen advertised will involve the loss of work for someone.

    No more ministerial cars, sounds good unless you are a driver. No more ID cards loverly, unless you happen to work on the project. No more HIPS, great, unless you happen to have spent your savings training to be a HIPS inspector.

    All of those workers who fled to the public sector are going to find that rather than discovering a safe haven of secure jobs it's out of the frying pan into the fire.

    Expect to see the Unions stamping their feet and marching for insane wage demands and no redundancies for the Socialist parallel universe they seem to live in.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    I don't give a stuff about the savings or not

    Whats important here is the halt of the Liebour surveillance paranoia control freak 'Obey' 'Papers citizen' snooper state.

    Full marks for progress on the road to a return to sanity. or 13 years of expensive intrusive feck ups are being fixed. Take your pick.

  8. Sir Runcible Spoon


    So where does the cost of the ID card system reach £billions then?

    The contracts listed so far total far less than £1bn, so where was the rest of the money going?

    1. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Sir

      Most of the £4.5bn over 10 years estimate was for operational costs - paying the civil servants to run things and contractors to maintain systems.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Issuing != using

      Issuing the things was one thing. The costs associated with making use of them is quite another. These budgets didn't cover the cost of providing terminals to interact with the cards and the identity database, AFAIK. Nor of training people to use them. In the public and private sector. And the help desk to support those uses. And ..

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Sir

      Most of the savings are for *us*, not the government. *We* won't have to fork out £30 a head (or more, since the previous lot would never be pinned down on a credible figure) simply to carry on living in our own country.

      And yes, not living in a totalitarian dictatorship is nice, too.

  9. I didn't do IT.
    Thumb Up

    No more multi year contracts!

    Any law that would allow subsequent governments to cancel contracts could be easily handled by companies; each contract is simply for one year's worth of work. If the company did good, they get another contract for the next part. If they did poorly, someone else gets it or it is allowed to die.

    Companies, of course, will howl bloody murder. Without multi-year contracts, they can't hide overruns or incompetencies, foist time for proper design into "trials", blame unexpected R&D time, make pie-in-the-sky promises on what technology MIGHT be available in 5 years, or hide other gouging through estimates "so many years out".

    Government probably wouldn't go for it either, because it would require the Gov to become a project manager, where a rollout and maintanence might cover several contractors over a period of years, and would make that person in Gov more visible and responsible (liable) for the project's success or failure.

    So, would probably save money, ensure responsibility, and encourage timely performance. Nope, it will never happen.

    1. chr0m4t1c

      It won't happen

      Because government IT tends to be linked to legislation and government likes to fiddle with legislation. It can be bad enough for new systems like ID, but if your system has to correctly account for 40+ of legislation, then it can take over a year just to get all of the paperwork together.

      And this is assuming that the legislation isn't contradictory (which it often is).

      Then, once you have all of the paperwork together, someone needs to translate it from doublethink into something understandable so that it can be turned into software.

      Then once it's turned into software you need to test it to make sure it is correctly accounting for the legislation. And then you can re-work it all to cover whatever the government enacted while all that was going on. And test it again.

      Then it *might* be ready to go live, but then the civil-servants in charge of the project will say they don't have the authority and you have to wait for the minister to be available to sign it all off.

      I'm amazed that some of the big stuff ever sees the light of day, TBH.

      One year contracts would end up costing more money because most projects don't fit in a one year timescale, so you'd be re-negotiating all of the time and lawyers aren't free.

      If you want your scapegoat, then just appoint one for each project, they don't even have to do anything, that'll be cheaper.

      The way to reduce the costs would be for the government to correctly define what they want *first* and *then* to agree to not change any legislation while the system is in development, rather than do what they do at the moment, which is to just insert a clause in the contract telling the supplier they have to comply.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Done in the US

      Where AFAIK getting a project to be "Multi-year" especially in defense and space, is a *major* issue.

      Weather or not it *actually* saves money is another matter. The US has government con-tractors like Europe hase government con-tractors (quite often the *same* con-tractors) who operate different (but not *very*) different business models.

      It's part of the *cost* of being a government con-tractor.

      No that hyphen is not necessary. Yes that is *exactly* how I think of them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Almost makes me cry with frustration at how much the company I work for charges for a *simple* 5 minute field service call when the department in question has it's own IT staff who have been turned into simple toner monkeys but are still on the same salary.

        Often I don't even have to get my hands even moderately dirty because the on site guys have already done the job and yes, we still charge and get paid regardless.

  10. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    Because the 1Bn savings are only the stated costs of the contracts.

    When they overrun by a factor of 10x like all government IT contracts and eventually have to be abandoned and then redone at twice the original cost - which then overruns by a factor of 10 and so on....

  11. Stevie


    Do I at least get to punch somebody in the face over the bloody nonsensical idiocy I had to go through to get a photo suitable for a new "biometric" UK passport here in the USA?

    Total load of arse!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Humbug :-)

      It's worse than idiocy. I took my own photo for my passport and, after re-reading the notes, noticed the bit that said that there should be no reflections from the flash over the eyes in my glasses.

      I could have just retaken the photo without glasses but, being awkward, I fired up the editing software and 'photoshopped' it.

      I now have both passport & driving license with heavily edited pictures.

      Why do they bother. With a photograph that size from a much larger source, they will not see the difference.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ID Cards for furriners?

    I've never understood that bit. The civil cervix have been pushing for compulsory ID cards for furriners for a bit, but I don't understand how it would work.

    Presumably foreigners would need some sort of recognised ID in order to get their UK ID card in the first place, so why bother with the ID card why not just stick with their original ID. Furthermore I don't see how it would help. Presumably its suppoed to crack down on illegal immigrants, but here's the problem illegals won't have ID cards and British citizens won't have ID cards. He's got an ID card so he's a foreigner who's here legally. She hasn't got and ID card so she's either an illegal or a British citizen and since a British citizen isn't required to carry any ID how do you tell the difference?

    1. Ejit

      How do you tell the difference?

      Ask to see her and her parents birth certificate.

      Jus soli

      Jus sanguinis

    2. Ejit

      How do you tell the difference?

      Ask to see her and her parents birth certificate.

      Jus soli

      Jus sanguinis


  13. NinjasFTW

    biometric passports

    "Likewise there will be no significant impact on IBM's seven-year, £285m National Biometric Identity Service deal. It will now only need to store biometric data relating to passports and asylum applicants, however."

    So they are still collecting all the same data as with the ID cards except now its just for anyone who wants a passport..... Is this really a win?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: biometric passports

      Passports aren't compulsory, so yes, that's a win on principle and principles matter on questions of civil liberties. Whether it is also a win in practice depends on how many foreign holidays you take and quite what standards of identification apply (now and in the future) at "EU-internal" borders.

      Of course, following a tip-off here on El Reg, I renewed my passport just before they started collecting all this crap, so I'm good for quite a few years yet. (Can't take the kids, though. Shame, that!)

  14. kevin biswas

    "The only ID card contractor facing the exit is Thales"

    So a fail (sorry, a thail) for Thales then ?

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    How the hell do these contracts *need* to be *this* big?

    How many "eligible" people visit the UK each year that get involved in this system?

    Is it >>66million?, =66million?, <66million?

    As suspected, this is *not* being put "beyond use," it's more like being put into hibernation.

    For when?

    This should have saved *100s* of millions of pounds, not 18.

    Very f^&*ing angry indeed.

  16. Philip Hands

    So the savings will be minimal, eh?

    When Labour signed these contracts in full knowledge that the scheme would be scrapped in the highly probable event of them losing the election, they should have ensured that the cost to the public be minimized in that case.

    I presume that the individuals all paid for fire insurance on their own houses in the last year, despite the fact that the chances of a house fire are infinitesimal compared with the chances of the ID scheme being scrapped. Funny how they value their own property so much more than our property.

    Those responsible for signing such contracts should lose their pensions at the very least.

    1. Loki 1

      ah but!

      But what you are confusing I think is Government with the Civil Service. The civil service is a big machine where nobody wants change unless it benefits them. They really didn't want any sort of exist clauses or even consider it because then it would become that much easier for the new government to scrap their departments (and empire building is a major thing in the civil service - trust me on this one).

      So, its naturally in their interests to make sure that they retain some "power" regardless of who is in charge of the government.

  17. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @ID Cards for furriners

    Simple - you ask to see their id card, if they don't have one they are either foreigners here illegally or not foreigners.

    If they say 'wot the ell you talking bart copper' you arrest them for looking at a policeman in a funny way.

    It's similar to the terrorist ID card and works on very similar principals to the magic powder the government uses on the roads to keep the elephants off.

  18. Is it me?

    Sorry does anybody think anymore.

    Any government that brought in a law that said no contract would run past the end of their term would plunge the UK into financial chaos. Firstly if we have fixed term parliaments, it will mean we might have several governments over the term of a parliament, and some governments persist either side of an election.

    Government contracts do not just cover IT, and there are thousands and thousands of them, so when a new government comes in, it would have to re-negotiate every single contract for everything to EU procurement rules which would ensure that it would take more than six months to re-instate them. Hope you don't need a brain scan or anything important. Oh yes and all the employment contracts would cease as well.

    Then tere's all the financial contracts, that would let some people off their obligations to pay, and mean we have to renege on others, can just see what that would do to our triple A rating.

  19. CASIOMS-8V

    Is it too much to ask?

    That as part of Cameron and Cleggs .gov and new politics and new parliament etc that they put a thresh-hold on 'new' projects that a government can contract without a majority free vote?

    Especially if it runs beyond the term of an elected government?

    *sigh* I guess I am one of the half million with a hang over today and I am still looking at life from the bottom of a pint glass.

  20. Joe 35

    Missing the point - be glad they are gone

    Most of these comments about retrospective contracts miss the point entirely.

    There were two IT aspects to ID cards, issuing them (part 1), and using them (part 2).

    Part 1, The infrastructure for issuing them is essentially the same as the infrastructure for issuing passports, so very little change there, still got to issue passports, so as seen, its only Thales, involved in the bit that printed a card, that's really affected.

    Part 2, **The part that had not been costed at all**, that no one knew how it would work (flick a card and listen to it was as far as it got IIRC) , was the massive national infrastructure for reading the cards, for checking that the card is genuine, that its holder was who they said they were, all that junk. None of that was ever costed, it would have been horrendous, that's now not going to be implemented. Be very thankful for that.

    This is all aside the civil liberties issues, as someone else posted, never mind the cost, focus on that.

    But part two, if it ever came to fruition, would have been *incredibly* expensive to implement (even ignoring the fact it would likely never have worked).

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aww, poor consultancies..

    A change of government is always hard. You just spent several terms crawling up the main people's rear ends, and now you have to reverse, clean up and start again with a new club, all the while denying you were ever supportive of the old lot..

    I give them half a year, tops, before they locate a friendly high up and the bonanza starts again. As a matter of fact, it may have already happened.

    Cynic? That's just an alias for realist..

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Re: Surely

    Reneging on debts has a long and illustrious history, why stop it now?

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