ID card scheme costs hit £215m

But future of ID cards remains uncertain

The government has spent £215 million (US$353.7 million) on the national identity scheme, including ID cards and biometric passports.

The news comes only a month after home secretary Alan Johnson said the controversial national ID cards would no longer be compulsory. A contract to produce the cards has also been pushed back until after a general election, which could decide their future.

Details of the spending slipped out in a parliamentary written answer last week. In the answer, the government admitted it had spent progressively more on the scheme each year since 2003, hitting a peak of £81.5 million in the year to April 2009.

The government did not break down how much of the £215 million was spent on identity cards, and how much on the biometric passports that are also part of the scheme, but the figure immediately drew ire from the Conservative Party.

Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary, said today in the Financial Times that the government had "wasted" large amounts of money on ID cards.

"The scheme will cost hundreds of millions more, even if the cards are voluntary," he stated. "It is time it was completely scrapped."

The Conservatives have said on many occasions that they would stop the ID cards programme if they won a general election, and have written to suppliers CSC and IBM warning them of that.

But the Tories maintain support for biometric passports, for which there will be a database that contains similar information. Civil liberties campaigners, in contrast, have described biometric passports as ID cards "by the back door".

In spite of the uncertainty over the future of identity cards, which have only been rolled out to foreign nationals, and airside workers at Manchester and London City airports, the government today unveiled what the cards will look like.

The 10 year budget for ID cards is £1.3 billion. Some £3.6 billion will be spent on biometric passports.

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