Ministers are in talks with the Post Office over proposals for the latter to handle biometric enrolment and distribution for ID cards and biometric passports, reports the Guardian.
The Post Office already operates a 'check and send' service for passports, and there is therefore some logic to extending this to the collection of fingerprints once these are required. According to the most recent schedule/delay, this is intended to happen in 2012, but ID cards will arrive sooner for some groups, "workers in sensitive roles" in late 2009 and youthful volunteers in 2010.
The government's original intention was to handle passport and ID enrolment through a network of regional centres, but it is now felt that using private sector partners would be cheaper/more effective. Giving the business to the Post Office could therefore deal with two problems, achieving nationwide enrolment and distribution, and helping keep branches open.
Conversely, not giving the contracts to the Post Office would probably also mean terminating the passport deal the organisation already has. If other organisations won the deal for enrolment, then along with this they'd surely become responsible for checking applications and passing them on to the Identity & Passport Service, possibly cutting the Post Office out completely, and therefore triggering more branch closures.
How the Post Office might handle biometric enrolment if it did win this part of the contract is not entirely obvious, but it does seem unlikely that every branch, no matter how tiny and remote, will be kitted out with a fingerprint machine. And even in larger branches security may be an issue, as there have been a number of passport application fraud cases involving post office workers. ®