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Land Registry sell off returns to the limelight



Commons to debate privatisation plan as government prepares consultation response

The government's controversial plan to transfer Land Registry operations to the private sector will comeunder parliamentary scrutiny next week as the competition watchdog reiterates its concerns.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultation on the sale closed last month.  Its proposal, to create a "NewCo" to take over most Land Registry operations, prompted a wave of objections, including a petition signed by some 300,000 people (pictured).

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, North London (which has roughly half the English national average of home ownership) has tabled a motion stating noting "the important role the Land Registry plays in registering the ownership of land and property in England and Wales" and that "any privatisation of the Land Registry will have serious consequences for transparency and accountability in the UK property market."

No decisions

The government has not announced a publication date for its response and insists that no decisions have been made. But in an unusual move, the Competition and Markets Authority has reiterated its concerns about the sell-off plans. 

A blogpost on the issue stresses that the authority is not opposed to privatisation as a policy, but that it succeeds only when subject to "the disciplining force of market competition". In the case of monopolies - such as Land Registry - regulation is necessary.

"And even then, history shows that regulation may not be sufficient if the structure of a privatisation works against consumer interests," the CMA says.

Monopoly duties

In the post, assistant director Elliott Scanlon points out that Land Registry currently has both monopoly duties and commercial interests.

"Our concern is that a private monopoly needing to raise revenue could be tempted to weaken competition to its own products – for example by limiting potential competitors’ access to registry information," he says. "And the mix of activity in the business may make it a ‘black box’ that’s difficult to regulate."

The Government will be looking hard for a model to resolve that potential conflict - and not only in the case of Land Registry. 


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