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Uncertainty reigns over Land Registry



Whitehall is refusing to confirm or deny press reports that the industry secretary has thrown out plans that would pave the way to the privatisation of the book of Land Registry.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has yet to respond formally to a consultation it issued in January on creating a "service delivery company" with possible private shareholding, to work alongside a shrunken office of the chief land registrar. The proposals attracted a storm of criticism from staff, conveyancers and the legal world.

At the weekend, however, a newspaper reported that industry secretary Vince Cable has blocked the plan, partly because of the complexity of reforming the registry's statutory basis. This was despite the announcement in the Queen's speech of plans to amend the Land Registration Act to allow Land Registry to take on new powers.
According to the Mail on Sunday, Cable decided to cancel the plan after a 'civil servant revolt'

It said that the partial sell-off had been intended to raise £1.2bn for the Treasury and the cancellation would be a blow to private equity firms and outsourcers.

The PCS trade union, which has been leading protests, including a 48-hour strike at the registry, immediately welcomed the revelation and said "serious questions must be asked of senior officials and ministers who tried to push through what would have been a very damaging and totally unnecessary sell-off".

However the Mail report seemed to catch the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills off-guard. A statement said: "We have carried out a public consultation on the introduction of a Land Registry service delivery company, which looked at a range of options - including the status quo. We will publish the government response shortly."

One suggestion is that Cable is wary after the heavy criticism that followed the sell-off of Royal Mail. However the government is expected to make further privatisation announcements, possibly including Ordnance Survey, in the chancellor's autumn statement.

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