Oh, what a tangled web…

Thanks to Toby Stevens for the pointer to this excellent piece by Tony Collins on the ComputerWeekly.com site, about the entangled costs of UK ID cards and passports.

Tony’s headline question is “Are passport fees paying for ID cards?”. By the time to get to the part of the article where he notes that the fee for a new passport (at £114) can exceed the unit production cost (£15) by over 750%, there may not be much doubt left in your mind.

I have long argued that policy statements which deliberately merge ID cards, passports and the National Identity Register are misleading and unhelpful. Let’s not forget, after all, that much of the current entanglement has its origins in the dark days of Charles Clarke’s stewardship of the project – a period which did not reflect well either on his reaction to criticism of the scheme, or on the government’s willingness to be open about costs and external assessments relating to the project.

Let’s not forget that, long before his subsequent fall from grace on unrelated matters, Sir James Crosby concluded that (i) adoption of ID cards would only gain mass public support if they were free; and (ii) there was no viable financial model for the scheme based on raising revenue from consumers.

For obvious reasons, the public appetite for transparency in the handling of public funds has probably never been greater than it is now. The use of bailout funds, the distinction between MPs’ “allowances” and “expenses”, and the cost/revenue model for passports versus ID cards would all be good places to start.