The UK's ID scheme, which the Government intends to railroad through its commons committee stage within the next three weeks, already has more than 80 people working on it, according to figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats and published in the Daily Telegraph today.
The total has more than doubled since last March, and the major beneficiary has been PA Consulting, appointed in May as "development partner" for the ID scheme. Prior to this the ID team consisted of 23 civil servants, three external secondments and six consultants. The headcount is now 39 civil servants, three secondments (from the Passport Service, the Metropolitan Police and an external management consultancy) and 40 consultants* from PA. New Home Secretary Charles Clarke says that £9 million has been spent on development of the scheme already, and as PA has an 18 month contract for £10 million, total expenditure during this phase of the project is likely to be much larger.
PA is, allegedly, "work on the design, feasibility testing, business case and procurement elements of the programme. As the programme proceeds it will be subject to regular Office of Government Commerce Gateway reviews," which we hazard translates as PA supervising testing of whether the scheme can actually work, and possibly also ("business case") figuring out a half-plausible justification for it. Some data from the development phase so far must undoubtedly exist, but neither this nor the Gateway review data is in the public domain. There have been Freedom of Information Act requests for the Gateway data (notably by Spy Blog, which is monitoring progress on a number of FOIA requests), but the Home Office is likely to resist disclosures, and Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer has reportedly ruled out the release of legal advice related to the ID scheme.
The ID Bill's breakneck committee phase is therefore likely to pass without Parliament's elected chamber having the time either to consider it properly or the information necessary to do so. The Government currently intends to get the Bill onto the statute book before the election, likely to be in May, but will need the Tories to continue to support it in order to do this. The Tories have hedged their support with numerous caveats, so this is by no means a certainty.
* Currently, the Home Office, which is engaged in a large number of IT projects, must surely be the consultant's land of milk and honey. It professes, however, not to be able to say how much it actually spends on them. If you look through the first few answers here, you'll see it claims not to have central records on consultancy contracts, spending on ICT consultants and engineers, and that (McTaggart answer) centralised information on external consultants mysteriously dried up after costs exceeded £27 million and £21 million respectively in 2000-1 and 2001-2. But you'll note that McTaggart says the wondrous Adelphi Oracle system is intended to fix all this - as the rollout is now starting, MPs may care to start honing their questions. ®