Azara Blog: Blair still keen on ID cards

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Date published: 2005/05/26

The BBC says:

ID cards are needed to stop the soaring costs of identity theft, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said as proposals for a national scheme were reintroduced.

The plan is for cards to be phased in from 2008, and made compulsory later.

The Conservatives have now decided they will join the Lib Dems and some Labour in opposing the measure.

Critics claim Mr Blair is highlighting ID theft as his other reasons for the cards have not won support. The cost of the scheme has risen since November.

The Home Office will not put a figure on the cost of setting up the cards system, saying it is commercially sensitive.

But the scheme will cost an estimated £584m to run every year - a cost of £93 per card, compared with an estimated cost of £85 per card in November.

Ministers stress they have not yet decided what fees people would have to pay for the cards.

Discounts would be available to some card holders but Home Office Minister Tony McNulty refused to speculate whether other people would have to pay more than £93.

He said the latest cost estimate was more "robust" than the figure given last November.

And he argued that 70% of the cost would be spent on new biometric passports whether or not ID cards were introduced.

No doubt by the time the actual sums roll in it will cost nearer £200. No large government IT project has ever come in anywhere near on budget and anywhere near working correctly. The 70% figure might be accurate, but you can't believe anything any politician says, so it's almost certainly a misleading statement. And it is disingenuous to mention that "they have not yet decided what fees people would have to pay for the cards". The actual cost is going to be the average cost, whether they like it or not. Sure, some "deserving" people (e.g. the "poor") might get a discount but other people will have to pay more to make up for it, either directly or via the tax system. After all, this is a zero sum game. If the introduction ends up saving more than the cost (e.g. in savings due to reduced ID fraud) then you could just about justify the scheme (ignoring the civil liberty issues). But is there any evidence this is true? And on the practicality front, it will probably be only major cities where the technology will be available to make a biometric ID, so many people will be seriously inconvenienced just getting a card. (And of course that cost, although smaller, is not factored into the equation.) Blair will be long gone before this all comes in, but it's almost certainly going to be another black mark on his record.

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