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BLOG: How the government u-turned on Land Registry privatisation

The plan

Earlier this year, the government opened a consultation on proposals to split the Land Registry into a very small Office of the Chief Land Registrar (OCLR) – which would remain part of the civil service – and a service delivery vehicle that would undertake the vast majority of the Land Registry’s work, and which would be open to privatisation.

BIS Protest 2Labour have consistently told the Tory-led government that we see no compelling case for the privatisation of a government agency which returned a surplus of £98.8m to the Treasury last year.

Currently the Land Registry is reducing fees to consumers, individuals and businesses who buy and sell property has a 98% satisfaction rating from customers; and has increased the electronic delivery of services.

After the botched sell off of the Royal Mail, I believe the public have little appetite for the selloff of another important agency – which we all use when we buy or sell our home – as evidenced by the 100,000 signatures against the idea on a 38 Degrees petition.

Sham consultation

I also have strong concerns that the official consultation on this issue so far has not lived up to the high standards the public would expect from their government.

In a letter to a PCS union representative at the registry on 30 April 2014, Business Minister Michael Fallon stated that he would: “like to reiterate once again that the overall proposal is being considered against the option of remaining as is; and no decisions will be taken until all consultation responses have been considered.”

So I was alarmed that documents leaked to The Guardian newspaper appear to demonstrate that that just five days before this letter was written, senior civil servants had already discounted continuing with the status quo and were only discussing two options, both centred around privatisation of the service.

You can read more here.

The Leaked documents are minutes from a Land Registry board meeting in March.  At the meeting the board appointed a legal officer as company director and had engaged in detailed discussions about the pros and cons of two types of privatisation. The meeting did not consider the option of keeping the registry as a public asset.

Consultation event

In the face of these revelations I took strong action.  Firstly, I wrote to the Tory minister responsible to demand that the government start the whole process again under a new minister with an open mind.

More importantly, I arranged an alternative evidence session in parliament for MPs of all parties.  This ensured that those organisations who felt their voices had not been heard in the sham consultation – Unions, Local Government, Lawyers, and small businesses in the property search industry – were able to make their case directly to politicians about how privatisation of the Land Registry would be a disaster.

The pressure mounted by Labour, and this diverse coalition of groups appears to have had an effect as last Monday the government used a written ministerial statement to confirm they would now not be pursuing privatisation this side of the election.

I’m sure you will share my relief that that the Secretary of State who sold off the Royal Mail on the cheap, costing the tax payer hundreds of millions of pounds, won’t now be overseeing an immediate privatisation of the 150 year old Land Registry.

However, there is of course no room for complacency and we will continue to monitor the Infrastructure Bill, currently coming before Parliament, to ensure that the government do not attempt to sneak in last minute amendments which could facilitate a later privatisation.

I will also continue to fight for the election of a Labour government next year who will fight for strong public services and not see them as cash cows to be sold off to pay for the Tories economic failure.

By Toby Perkins MP

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Welcome

I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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