The UK government has formally launched the selection process which will choose a contractor to run the controversial National Identity Card scheme. Details of the "opportunity" were posted online (pdf) this afternoon.
The Home Office Identity & Passport Service (IPS) said: "The procurement approach will select a small group of the best suppliers in the market for the required services. These suppliers will work with IPS and its partner agencies to deliver capabilities for the Scheme."
Home Office Meg Hiller told Reuters that: "This is a groundbreaking project, with the potential for huge benefits for individuals and for the nation ... As the Framework Procurement published today makes clear, we are committed to introducing the scheme carefully and securely, minimizing both cost and risk."
The planned ID card and accompanying database structure would be unprecedented, containing multiple biometric signatures for every citizen and potentially much more besides. Reports suggest that five contracts may be awarded initially, worth up to half a billion pounds each. The scheme is due for rollout from 2009, and would become compulsory in time.
Ultimately, we are talking of course about a serious amount of government green here. The Home Office - remember them - has previously said it will cost a piddling £5bn odd, while upstarts at the LSE have said £19.2bn is a more sensible figure. This being government work - and people having an annoying habit of breeding more people - an initial half a billion quid can surely only be a fraction of the riches the winning bidders will expect to make back in the long run.®