The government yesterday published options for the £1bn-plus privatisation of Land Registry, as flagged by chancellor George Osborne in last week’s budget.
Ownership of the Land Register is set to remain in public hands, with the preferred model a contract between government and a private operator that will take effect next year under which all core functions will be outsourced.
‘Key protections’ are also promised for customers, including fees being approved by parliament and the continuation of the state-backed guarantee when a loss is incurred as a result of a mistake in the register. The changes will require primary legislation.
Announcing the consultation, business secretary Sajid Javid said: 'By proposing a model where government retains critical functions, including ownership of the Register itself, we are delivering on our promise to ensure the sale of public assets benefits the wider economy and all working people in the longer-term.’
The proposals will prove controversial. Plans to turn the bulk of Land Registry into a stand-alone company as a precursor to privatisation were shelved under the coalition government in 2014, following a barrage of criticism. Members of trade union PCS went on strike in protest at those proposals, which the Law Society warned could ‘undermine the register’s integrity and introduce conflicts of interest with potentially adverse economic results’.
The PCS has already promised a ‘major campaign’ against the latest plans, under which it is proposed that the 'majority’ of Land Registry staff will transfer to the new private contractor.
In a statement, the union said: 'Two years ago when the coalition government tried to hive off the well-respected 150-year-old agency the union worked with politicians, and housing industry and legal professionals to successfully make the case for continued public ownership.
'This latest plan – published cynically at 5pm on the last day before the parliamentary recess – is being driven by the Treasury’s demand for cuts and short-term returns with, we believe, little enthusiasm from the business minister responsible.’
Although the government has put forward a preferred option, it stressed that no final decision on the future model of Land Registry has been made. However the document stresses the need for speed to reduce uncertainty and prevent 'investor fatigue'.
The consultation closes on 26 May.