Land Registry workers to stage 48-hour strike over privatisation plans

Land Registry workers to stage 48-hour strike over privatisation plans
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/06/land-registry-workers-48-hour-strike-privatisation-plans
On 14-15 May, a 48-hour strike by thousands of workers at the Land Registry is taking place over plans to privatise the 150-year-old agency, which is expected to lead to hundreds of job cuts.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union will walk out in 14 locations across England and Wales.

Leaked documents show that in a Land Registry board meeting in March, the board had detailed discussions about the pros and cons of two types of privatisation under the heading “business strategy”, appearing to discuss a  KPMG presentation on the possibility of a private sector partner. The meeting did not consider the option of keeping the registry as a public asset.

Former executives from the body, that registers the ownership of land  and property in England and Wales, say that a sell-off “beggars belief” because it will allow the private sector to adjudicate on what can be conflicting interests between sellers, buyers, lenders and neighbours.

Taken from: “Privatisation: Another Disaster in the making” (by MICHAEL KAVANAGH, 29/04/2014, The Morning Star):

HM Land Registry has been a part of central government since its
creation in 1862, when it was formed to create security of title to
land as an impartial arm of the state.

The staff make quasi-judicial decisions on thousands of property
transactions on a daily basis and record and maintain the register
that contains details including house and land purchases, rights,
remortgages and other secured debts.

The Land Registry holds a large amount of personal and financial
information, including land ownership, price paid information and
details of third-party interests such as loans and court orders.

As a “trading fund” it makes no call on the taxpayer, as it is
entirely funded by transaction fees and — because it is so efficient —
it is able to pay a sizeable dividend to the Treasury on an annual
basis.

For 149 years it was part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and predecessor departments. In 2013 machinery of government changes moved it to the Department of  Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) under Secretary of State Vince  Cable. Within BIS, the Land Registry is under the control of the shareholder executive, which also controls Ordnance Survey, the Met Office and Companies House.

Since the early 1970s the Land Registry has been subject to seven studies into possible privatisation. These studies, undertaken by both Conservative and Labour governments,  have each unequivocally concluded that privatisation would be utterly  wrong and against the public interest.

The most recent “feasibility study,” however, sought to answer the
question “how would you privatise HM Land Registry?” and was carried out following the coalition government’s 2010 comprehensive spending review. The then parent department, MoJ, commissioned the well-known  management consultants and privateers KPMG to carry out this study.

Coincidentally, several members of the shareholder executive hail from KPMG, including its chief Mark Russell.

The KPMG report, obtained by PCS under freedom of information,
concluded that the best way to privatise the Land Registry would be to  firstly vest it into a government-owned company, which — surprise  surprise — was one of the options contained within the government consultation, which closed on March 20. The other consultation options included a joint-venture partnership and contracting out almost the entire delivery side of the Land Registry.  Each of the options included the retention of a small office of the chief land registrar within government, to deal with statutory elements. This was an unsuccessful attempt to reassure the public and legal  profession that state guarantee of title and service levels would be protected.

The minister responsible is Michael Fallon, who was the main mover in government for the botched and ludicrous privatisation of Royal Mail. According to the PCS, Fallon gave assurances that the status quo is an option,  although this was not clearly stated in the consultation papers. The Law Society, high street solicitors, property search providers and the PCS were among the many voices who have voiced opposition to the notion of privatisation of the Land Registry.

PCS and others argue that this would affect the quality and accuracy
of service and the security of the data we collect and hold. They also argue that concurrent consideration on what Land Registry would look like, including under the government’s “digital by default” strategy, would inevitably force up the cost to the public and potentially put small high street conveyancing firms out of business.