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Data promise on Land Registry privatisation

29/01/14

A privatised Land Registry will continue to support the government's digital by default and transparency programmes, the agency's parent department said last week. However a consultation on the agency's future says nothing about any future commitment to open data.

Proposals to create a new company to run the land register of England and Wales appear in a consultation published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last week.

The land Rrgister is part of the Critical National Infrastructure. The responsible agency, Land Registry has been a self-funding trading fund since 1993. Under the new plan, Land Registry would be split into an Office of the Chief Land Registrar, which would remain in the public sector and be responsible for regulatory and fee-setting functions and a service delivery company which would be contracted to carry out the registry's functions.

The company would be outside the civil service and subject to company law "which would give greater future flexibilities to operate around pay and recruitment", the document says. In particular, 4,000 staff would cease to be civil servants. The new company "needs to have sufficient flexibility to drive through improvements in the delivery of land registration and to adopt new services for the benefit of its customers", the document says. It claims that the split will protect and maintain Land Registry's wider responsibilities. These include data sharing arrangements across government, licensing requirements set by government and the government's transparency agenda "including the management of a data policy".

No decision has been made on the company ownership: the document presents three options, from 100% owner by the government, to joint public-private ownership to a service delivery owned by the government but which outsources its day to day activities to a private contractor.

However the document indicates that splitting the policy and service functions is not clear cut. Several functions "would effectively be shared" after the split - these include keeping a register of title, dealing with objections and responsibility for the consequences of com plaits arising from alleged maladministration.

According to the consultation, the proposals are 'closely aligned' with government's priorities for digital by default and transparency. It says the customer should see little or no change. In the foreword, Michael Fallon, minister for business and energy, says the agency is "looking to become a leader in digitising land and property services and in the management and re-use of land and property data". The split of Land Registry into a policy and commercial function could pave the way for a similar reorganisation of Ordnance Survey and other grading funds.

The consultation closes on 20 March 2014.

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