£400m biometric-passport contract awarded

The UK government has awarded the contract for creating the next generation of British passports to secure-document specialist De La Rue.

The Identity and Passport Service on Thursday announced the £400m contract for the passports, which will be available to UK citizens from October 2010. The passports will feature new designs and improved security, including the ability to carry fingerprint biometrics.

“The British passport is recognised as one of the best in the world, and we want to keep it that way. Today we are affirming our commitment to making this travel document more secure than ever by using fingerprint biometrics,” James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), said in a statement.

The contract will last for 10 years. According to the IPS, the procurement process for the contract started with 20 prospective bidders in June 2008, before De La Rue was eventually awarded the project.

British company De La Rue has developed passports and identity documents for over 50 governments, according to the company’s chief executive, James Hussey.

IPS issued two contracts in April worth around £650m. The Application and Enrolment (A&E) contract to replace the UK’s current passport-application processing system, which is about to come to the end of its life, was awarded to CSC. The other deal, a contract to provide the National Biometric Identity Service (NBIS) with a database to support the introduction of biometric passports and ID cards, was awarded to IBM.

The biometric passports are part of a wider government strategy which also encompasses an ID card scheme. The government’s scheme to introduce ID cards has faced criticism from oppostion parties, claiming it is a waste of money at a time when government spending is under increasing scrutiny.

The Liberal Democrats recently said the present government is not capable of managing a project such as the ID card scheme. “Recent catastrophes involving personal data clearly demonstrate the inability of the government to handle sensitive information,” Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary, Chris Huhne, said recently.