The government still has ambitions to privatise some Land Registry services, despite its climbdown in the face of an overwhelmingly critical response to a consultation.
In a long-awaited statement yesterday, the department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that 'no decision has been taken to change Land Registry's model'.
It was responding to a consultation opened in January which proposed converting the bulk of the registry's activities into a 'service delivery company' reporting to a rump 'office of the chief land registrar'.
Of the 304 responses, 91% did not agree the principle of creating an arm's-length 'more delivery-focused' organisation would improve service, the response said, and 89% said they would not be comfortable with non-civil servants processing land registration information.
The statement admits that: 'Overall, across virtually all respondents, it was suggested that a case for change had not been made.'
The response quotes the Law Society's submission suggesting that the idea of hiving off activities into a service company misunderstands Land Registry's role: 'Whilst there may be a case for saying that some of the functions of the Land Registry are "administrative" in nature... much of the work has a quasi-judicial nature that relates to establishing and registering title.'
A U-turn had been widely expected since the news emerged in June that the industry secretary, Vince Cable, was unhappy with the plan. Cable was already under parliamentary fire for undervaluing the shares in Royal Mail, which were sold off by the government last year.
However the announcement, introduced by business minister Michael Fallon (promoted to defence secretary in this week's reshuffle), implies that a future Conservative government would revive the plan, stating: 'The government continues to believe that there are significant benefits in creating an arm’s-length service delivery company to transform and modernise the way in which land registration is carried out in the UK, as well as to support new opportunities for the business to play a wider role in the property market.'
Any future policy proposals to change Land Registry's commercial model would be subject to further consultation, the announcement says.
In a foreword to the response, the chief land registrar, Ed Lester, says: 'We will continue to improve our service delivery and make the process of dealing in land and property more efficient and secure.'