Senior figures at Land Registry are surprised that the government is ‘not more focused’ on the political risk of privatisation, leaked minutes from a board meeting revealed last week.
The future of the registry is under consideration by its Whitehall parent body, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, following a consultation on transferring the bulk of its activities to a ‘service delivery company’.
The consultation closed on 20 March yet minutes from a board meeting apparently held five days later and published by the Guardian suggest that the registry is proceeding on the basis that the changes will go ahead.
The minutes warn that the preferred option for the new company is subject to three sets of risks: threat of judicial review; industrial action; and timetable slippage. There are also ‘major presentational issues’ – mainly that the benefits of reform will be hidden in ‘unappreciated fee reductions’.
There is a need to ‘up the game considerably on comms’. The minutes add: ‘Surprised HMG not more focused on political risk.’
The document also reveals that the board turned down a request from Ed Lester, chief executive and chief land registrar, that it take over an office in Millbank, Westminster, for the use of the Office of the Chief Land Registrar, which would be created by the reforms.
‘While acknowledging the sound business case’ of the move, the board was ‘not prepared to sanction the commitment’, the minutes note.
Staff at Land Registry plan to strike on Wednesday and Thursday in protest against privatisation. The PCS union said maintaining Land Registry in public ownership would keep it free from conflicts of interest and could provide an added public service in helping to deal with the housing crisis through regulation of land use.
Land Registry declined to comment on the leak.
Meanwhile, Land Registry could also face a legal challenge over its plan to centralise the local land charges register currently compiled and held by local authorities, the property search trade association said last week.
The Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO) said local council chief executives have mooted a possible challenge to centralisation, which they say would damage the register.
CoPSO’s chairman James Sherwood-Rogers said he suspected that centralising land charges was part of a ‘pre-meditated process of fattening up’ the registry before privatisation.
‘No local authority actively supports the proposals, which some actually view as dangerous,’ he said.