The reviews, conducted in 2003 and 2004 at the start of the scheme, had been kept under wraps but were finally released after the Information Tribunal last month ordered the government to release them.
The tribunal said the public deserved to know the results of the reviews because there “remains a perception that central government does not have a particularly good track record with regard to IT projects.”
It emerged that the authors of the reviews expressed “concern” the authorities that were supposed to benefit from the scheme were not in reality particularly enthusiastic about it.
The second report said early recommendations on project management and risk assessment were addressed by the government, but “many complex issues” remained, affecting feasibility and affordability.
“The main potential beneficiaries of an identity cards scheme, such as police, DVLA, Passport Agency, IND (Immigration and Nationality Directorate) DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), Inland Revenue, and the financial sector, though generally supportive, were not quite as enthusiastic about the programme as might have been hoped,” the authors of the report wrote.
The police originally questioned the point of ID cards when there was no legal requirement for citizens to produce them on demand, it emerged.
The reviews also warned the government that there could be “unexpected data problems”, because of the “sheer scale” of the scheme. There was “no evidence that the skills and capabilities for the programme are readily available, nor have arrangements been made so far to secure them,” the reviews warned.
Experts had also warned that biometric data would not necessarily be a reliable way of checking identity.
And the money spent on the scheme was not justified considering the “erosion of public support” for ID cards, the authors wrote.
The Conservative party today seized on the opportunity to criticise the scheme. Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary, said “now we know why” the government had fought to keep the reports private.
But the Identity and Passport Service said the reviews were five years old, highlighting that the second review showed many of the recommendations on project management and risk assessment had been addressed early on.
“They acknowledge the good work that was done to ensure successful development of the ID cards scheme – good work which continues to this day,” an IPS spokesperson told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Gateway reviews published since 2004 have not been released.