The cost of madness

I’ve never voted Tory in my life, but the awful prospect is beginning to look like a possibility. A key determinant of how I vote next time will be the parties’ stance on the national ID card scheme to which Gordon Brown & Co are fanatically committed. On Friday Bill Crothers, commercial director for the Identity and Passport Service, announced that five companies had won the right to bid for the billions of pounds worth of work involved under a framework agreement announced on Friday. They are CSC, EDS, IBM, Fujitsu and Thales. No surprises there, then.

But get this. These companies will have to be compensated for lost profits, in addition to their bid and other costs, if the Conservatives win a general election and carry out their pledge to scrap the scheme.

According to the Financial Times report,

The promise of loss of profit payments – standard in government IT contracts where there is a change of government policy – was, however, attacked as “improper and quite extra-ordinary” by David Davis, shadow home secretary.

Mr Davis said he had written to the IT suppliers in February giving formal notice that the Conservatives would cancel the project, and had reminded Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, of the “longstanding convention that one parliament may not bind a subsequent parliament”.

“To guarantee these payments knowing that a future Conservative government has already said it will scrap ID cards is improper and quite extraordinary,” Mr Davis said. “I will be pressing ministers to explain under whose authority senior officials are making these promises.”

Stand by for the Labour argument that scrapping the ID Card would be wrong because it would cost too much in compensation.

Much is made of the fact that this kind of ‘compensation’ clause is standard for government work. Presumably, that’s because nobody would bid for the contracts without it. But doesn’t that tell you something interesting about the projects?