Land Registry privatisation abandoned, for now

Posted by Michael Rainsford in

It has been confirmed this week that the proposed plan to sell-off the Land Registry has been abandoned following overwhelming opposition. The cancellation comes just a day after Vince Cable's department faced a parliamentary report over their handling of the sell-off of Royal Mail.

Business minister Michael Fallon told MPs "Given the importance of the Land Registry to the effective operation of the UK property market, we have concluded that further consideration would be valuable". A major campaign involving the Law Society and unions saw thousands of members walk out in protest at the plans in the 14 locations where the Land Registry has offices.

The Registry, which employs 4,500 civil servants and is 152 years old this year, has had a monopoly on recording land and property information in England and Wales since 1862. The body receives no funding and is therefore reliant on registration and search fees to cover its expenditure. Nevertheless, this has rarely been an issue - the body made a financial loss for the first and only time in 2009 when the economic recession led to lower volumes of property sales and mortgage applications, dramatically impacting revenues. During the peak of the property market in 2007, the Land Registry processed £1 million worth of property every minute.

In talks with leading City firms, the body took advice on a number of privatisation options including a joint venture between the government and a private company, in addition to an alternative approach of letting a private company run the body on behalf of the government under a GovCo arrangement. Despite expectations that privatisation would have raised in the region of £1.2 billion for the UK Treasury, it is clear that most commentators are uncomfortable with putting such land and property data into the hands of the private sector. A survey showed that 91% also believed that the sale would not create added efficiencies. The business has already embarked upon its "digital transformation", which aims to create a single, national register instead of a local and fragmented approach, at the expense of continued headcount reductions.

The Rt Hon Michael Fallon pressed that the Land Registry "continues to be a cornerstone of the property ownership in England and Wales". The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills added that it still favours privatisation and would continue to "develop the policy". In the meantime it's business as usual.

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