Autumn Statement says registry to become ‘more digital data driven’ in public hands
After three years of work and furious responses to two public consultations, the chancellor of the exchequer has laid to rest a plan to transfer the Land Registry of England and Wales to the private sector.
The Autumn Statement document published today states: "Following consultation the Government has decided that HM Land Registry should focus on becoming a more digital, data driven registration business, and to do this will remain in the public sector."
The statement is a long awaited response to a consultation proposing transferring Land Registry operations to a ‘NewCo’ with a private sector shareholding. That in turn came two years after proposals on three options for the agency’s future, including turning most of it into a ‘service delivery company’, were themselves shelved.
The latest plan was opposed by organisations ranging from the Open Data Institute to the Competition and Markets Authority, as well as trade unions and professional bodies such as the Law Society.
The Land Registry is one of the more important sources of open data from the public sector, making a handful of datasets on property transactions available for re-use through GOV.UK.
Loud and clear
Signs that the Government was having second thoughts emerged in September when privatisation proposals were dropped from the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.
A parliamentary debate in June had meanwhile revealed opposition from the Conservative benches. George Freeman MP, minister for life sciences, told the House of Commons that, with a Government majority of 12 "it does not require many people to take a different view... in order for us to assess the likelihood of getting a measure through".
He told the Commons that the government had no intention of selling ownership of Land Registry data or creating a private monopoly. "We have heard the concerns expressed loud and clear," he said.
However, until now the agency’s sponsoring Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy insisted that no decision had been taken.
Maximise the value
The statement stresses the benefits of digital investment: "Modernisation will maximise the value of HM Land Registry to the economy, and should be completed without a need for significant exchequer investment."
However, this confidence in the public sector appears to contradict the March consultation document. While it conceded that digital transformation "can be brought about within the public sector" it went on to state: “A new owner could bring new knowledge and investment into the organisation and could ensure Land Registry accelerates its transformation into a more efficient and effective service delivery organisation with clear contractual obligations and controls to meet appropriate standards.”
Private investment, it went on to say, “could support an improved, faster transformation into the digital world, and deliver an improved service to customers”.
Possible asset sales
Despite the decision on Land Registry, the Autumn Statement document says that the government “continues to explore options for the sale of wider corporate and financial assets, where there is no longer a policy reason to retain them”.
The statement has come on the day of the announcement of the award of a contract to digital solutions company Kainos to create a central register of Local Land Charges data for Land Registry.
Image: Michael Cross