ID cards: procurement process begins

United Kingdom

Outline of the National Identity Scheme

The National Identity Scheme has been simplified since it was proposed in 2003. The cards will hold fingerprint and photographic information, but will not initially carry other biometric data, such as iris scans.

ID cards will be issued to non-EU nationals living in the UK next year, and British citizens will be issued with cards from 2009.

Rewards and risks

Procurement for the National Identity Scheme (officially announced in an OJEU Contract Notice on 9 August) potentially represents one of the most lucrative state tenders ever, and is expected to attract interest from a range of players. But it also carries substantial risks for bidders.

The use of a framework agreement (described below) means that interested parties are effectively bidding to bid. The Contract Notice also gives the government flexibility to switch between suppliers for different parts of the projects, and it has been reported in the press that some contracts will be for just 12-month terms.

The bidders can also expect robust provisions in the contracts, such as significant penalties for failing to meet expected service levels.

A further risk is political opposition. The Conservative Party has contacted suppliers to warn them that the scheme will be scrapped should the Conservatives win the next general election. This could lead to long-term contracts being called off years early.

Range of services

The first two proposed projects under the framework agreement are application and enrolment processing for passports and identity cards, and fingerprint matching and storage.

The Contract Notice states that other services may be purchased in the future, including biometric recording and storage, biographical background checking and the production and distribution of passports and ID cards.

Outsourcing service providers will be competing to provide business process and IT outsourcing, and systems and business integration services.

Framework agreement

The tender will proceed by a ‘competitive dialogue’ procedure. It is a sophisticated procurement process, and the government will not initially be contracting directly for the services. Instead, a framework agreement will be put in place, with a maximum of 6 participants. Individual projects, which could last up to 10 years each, will then be called off against the framework.

Each project will be procured through a mini-competition between the suppliers who have signed up to the framework agreement. With only a small number of players eligible to bid for these contracts, the big IT service companies have been putting together consortia of biometrics companies to enable them to deliver the various aspects of the scheme.

For smaller or niche service providers, work on the projects will be won by bidding to the large service providers selected under the framework, rather than getting involved directly in the government procurement process.

Next steps

The Home Office is hosting a bidders’ conference in London on 14 September. Potential bidders then have until 21 September to request documents, and must submit their request to participate by 28 September.

Further reading

The contract notice for the procurement can be read here.