Open letter[1]


Alastair Bridges

Executive Director Finance

Identity & Passport Service

2 Marsham St

London SW1P 4DF

Your ref. PG/10/202/8511


21 October 2010


Dear Mr Bridges

The £23 passport

I refer to your letter dated 16 September 2010[2], received three weeks later on 7 October 2010.

You identify a bad mistake of mine in a letter to the Treasury dated 17 August 2010[3] where I asserted that passport fees have been used for years to fund the failed National Identity Service. I withdraw that assertion and I apologise to both the Identity & Passport Service and the National Audit Office.

A ten-year adult British passport currently costs £77.50. A case can be made that it should only cost about £23. Your letter is intended to explain that huge difference. “I hope you find this information useful,” you say. Unfortunately, no. Your letter amounts to saying no more than that the price has gone up because the price has gone up. The Treasury asked you to answer on their behalf. You have failed.

“Below is a breakdown of the elements that make up the adult passport fee for the past ten years,” you say, before providing 20 years of data, most of which is not broken down.

There are certain questions which it would be useful to answer. Several of these are listed in my letter to the National Audit Office dated 14 October 2010[4]. How can you claim that biometrics based on facial geometry is a useful innovation? Or the introduction of RFID? Will PKI actually be used at border crossings anywhere in the world? What is the point of authentication by interview? Given that IPS only have 68 (or 64) interview offices for the entire country, are you serious about authentication by interview? Given that we are not going to have flat print fingerprints in passports after all, and there is no National Identity Register to maintain, why do we need CSC’s £385 million new passport application system[5], why not just cancel the contract, what value does it add?

IPS were at one stage planning to use private sector companies with a national network of high street shops[6], [7] to register everyone’s flat print fingerprints. There must have been costs budgeted for, to manage that network and collect the biometrics. Those costs will not now be incurred. Again, as with the questions above, the effect should be to reduce the price of a passport.

The Identity Cards Act 2006 is still on the statute book. Section 37 requires you to produce a cost report every six months. The last cost report was produced in October 2009[8]. There should have been two more since then. Are you breaking the law, not having produced them?

10 years. 20 years. Broken down. Not broken down. £77.50. £23. No answers to the question posed. Three weeks for the letter to get to me. Your Christian name is typed “Alistair” instead of “Alastair”. Breaking the law. Not breaking the law. It’s not good, is it, Mr Bridges.

No doubt morale at IPS is low. It must be a shock realising that there is nothing to show for the £292 million[9] James Hall spent on the National Identity Service. The new Digital Delivery Identity Assurance Project being touted by Directgov[10] makes no reference whatever to IPS, it is as though IPS no longer exist. At a meeting of prospective suppliers to the DDIAP, one supplier after another asserted that they could not be seen to be involved if any connection was made with IPS. A representative from DWP agreed with them. The 2009-10 statutory accounts were signed in June, four months ago. Since then, also no doubt traumatic, five members of your Board have disappeared[11] and IPS are still operating without an Executive Director of Operations[12].

I put it to you, Mr Bridges, that IPS is in a bit of a state. A negative brand, like Watneys. A sick/ill organisation that can’t do anything right, not even post a letter, let alone answer a question. IPS – the sick man of Whitehall.

You seem to have left Globe House. That’s a good first step on the road to recovery. Time now for a name change, get rid of the word “identity”. Make a clean breast of all the biometrics nonsense[13]. Your Chief Executive has an MBA from the London Business School. She must know that GMAC tested flat print fingerprinting for two years and then dropped it, it’s not reliable enough[14]. GMAC didn’t even bother to test facial geometry, everyone knows it doesn’t work and it must drive you mad at IPS having to pretend that it does. Give yourselves a break, for goodness sake, the nightmare of pretence is over.

Above all, IPS must be seen to be doing its job, issuing passports. You can’t have PA Consulting issuing press releases like this[15], it’s demeaning:

PA wins gold at the 2010 MCA awards


The winning project involved working with the IPS to procure a new passport provider. This complex and high-profile project required a redesigned passport which met the new international regulations for travel documentation, with enhanced security features to keep ahead of the threat of counterfeiting and the capability to store additional biometric information.

The team supported IPS and managed the £400m procurement process from start to finish.

If PA managed the process from start to finish, what were IPS doing? How much were PA paid to do IPS’s job? How much were IPS paid not to do their job?

Why does a passport cost £77.50 and not £23? If there’s no good reason, then, as part of your re-launch, along with your new name and address, the renunciation of biometrics and the defenestration of PA, how about putting the price down? Demand would go up and, who knows, IPS might be welcomed once again into communion with your fellow human beings.

Yours sincerely

David Moss


cc         Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary

            Rt Hon Danny Alexander MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury

            Sir David Normington KCB, Permanent Secretary, Home office

            Sarah Rapson, Chief Executive, Identity & Passport Service

            Susan Ronaldson, Director, National Audit Office



Annex – The defenestration of PA Consulting


The innovation highway, by PA Consulting[16]

This example of PA Consulting’s facetious approach speaks for itself. How long before they, too, are consigned to the Car Park of Antiquity? The sooner the better if IPS are to regain their mental health.

They consider biometrics to be mostly hype. That doesn’t stop them charging IPS and the UK Border Agency[17], among others, for advice on the deployment of biometrics.

1.1.1 Q. What is the Government Gateway? What is it for?[18]

A. In 1999, the UK Government commissioned a report from PA Consulting looking at the cross-government infrastructure that would be required to enable the delivery of online services and joined-up government to be implemented. One of the recommendations in that report was that the UK Government should procure a central ‘gateway’ that would help tackle common issues such as user identity management, messaging and transaction handling.

PA Consulting have been retained for a long time to advise the government on identity management. The comprehensive failure of the National Identity Service is their failure.

Management Consultancy[19] magazine and Accountancy Age[20] reported in July 2005 that PA have been working with the Home Office on the design, feasibility and procurement of the ID cards scheme in a team comprising 43 civil servants and 62 consultants. There is no budget, according to the Home Office, so PA’s work cannot go over budget. Simples:

'The nature of the contract for this service is such that an outturn value is not defined; packages of work are agreed monthly. The Home Office has made no commitment to any contract value.

On the other hand:

'Although the total value of the contract will not be known until the contract is concluded, I can tell you that the estimated prices given in the successful tender by the contractor were £9.87m for the development phase of the programme and £8.87m for the subsequent procurement phase.'

The Home Office said the 'average daily cost for each consultant working on the programme was £1,093'.

Consultants are meant to be experienced and responsible. Experience teaches that computerised systems need to be tested thoroughly before they are released. To release untested code is simply irresponsible. PA Consulting failed to get that message through to the Home office, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee were told that[21]:

It would not be realistic to rigorously test everything before the scheme goes live, to the point where the government can be sure that no further changes need to be made to the design of the scheme. Some parts of the scheme will not be tested, but will use off-the-shelf technology that has been adequately tested elsewhere.

PA’s virtues as a consultancy are questionable. They don’t make very good contractors either[22], prisoners and prison officers alike have been endangered by their slapdash behaviour:

PA Consulting lost the memory stick containing the details of the 84,000 prisoners, as well as another 30,000 offenders on the police national computer over a fortnight ago.

And then, there’s their press release:

PA wins gold at the 2010 MCA awards

PA Consulting Group (PA) has won another prestigious Management Consultancies Association (MCA) Management Award for our work with the Identity and Passport Service (IPS). The win, in the Operational Performance in the Public Sector category, was announced at the ceremony in London on Thursday 29th April, adding to PA’s enviable collection of MCA trophies.

The winning project involved working with the IPS to procure a new passport provider. This complex and high-profile project required a redesigned passport which met the new international regulations for travel documentation, with enhanced security features to keep ahead of the threat of counterfeiting and the capability to store additional biometric information.

The team supported IPS and managed the £400m procurement process from start to finish. The process was completed four months earlier than scheduled and below budget. The quality and security of the passport exceeded expectations and the new passport service will generate savings in excess of £160 million (30% savings against the anticipated contract value) over the term of the contract.

Kevin Sheehan, Director of Integrity and Security at the IPS, said of the project: "This procurement has delivered a fantastic outcome for IPS by delivering a superior passport at exceptional value for money. This project exemplifies the benefit of co-operative working through bringing together IPS's world-class passport knowledge with PA's procurement expertise." Mark Brett added: "The MCA’s recognition of the quality and value of this complex project demonstrates PA's expertise and leadership in public sector procurement."

PA have helped to deploy biometrics which they think are mostly hype.

They announce that they saved 30% on the anticipated contract value, commercial information which is normally denied to freedom of information requests, for example, and which, in this case, simply tells the contractors they can ask for a lot more when the contract comes up for renewal.

And Kevin Sheehan of IPS thinks it’s a “fantastic outcome” and “exceptional value for money”. Who could possibly disagree with Mr Integrity and Security? It is fantastic. It is exceptional to charge £77.50 for something which should cost more like £23.

[11] Hall, Davis, Crothers, Hunt, Gaskell