In a stroke of timing that has led critics to claim that the UK government is trying to bury bad news, the Home Office has announced that the official cost of the national ID card scheme has risen to £5.31 billion.
The figure, covering anticipated expenditure between 2006 and 2016, is an increase of £400 million on the previous forecast, and was released on the day the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced his departure. The government claims that the increased costs amount to £40 million per year over 10 years, of which 70% will be spent on ePassports.
However, the main opposition party – the Conservatives – claims the actual rise in today’s terms is £640 million. The Conservatives and the other main opposition party, the Liberal Democrats, have also criticised the delay in releasing the figure, which was due to be released on 9 April. The Speaker of the House of Commons has joined in the cricitism of the government over its failure to publish the report on time, and recommended that the issue be taken up with the Home Affairs Select committee and the Liaison Committee.
Under the Identity Card Act, the government must provide an update of the costs of the scheme twice a year. The Home Office has rejected the charge of burying bad news by saying that the 9 April deadline fell during Parliament’s Easter holiday, so it had released the figures as soon as possible after the recess.