The official consultation on selling the Land Registry into private hands has now been launched, with anger that it was pushed out just as the Easter bank holiday weekend was beginning.
The timing was reminiscent of the consultation on the 3% Stamp Duty Land Tax surcharge, which was sneaked out during the Christmas break.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says that the sale of the Land Registry, likely next year, would allow the Government to pay down debt.
BIS expects that a move into the private sector would allow the Land Registry to become “even more efficient. At the same time it could continue with an appropriate level of service to support the property market”.
The consultation, which runs until May 26, spells out the sheer size of the operation that will be put up for sale – 4,578 staff in 14 offices in England and Wales.
Almost unbelievably, there are now almost two-thirds fewer staff than the 12,000 employed in the 1990s. This massive reduction in headcount has been largely driven by the move from paper to online.
However, says the consultation, with the Government’s commitment to build 1m more homes by 2020, the Land Registry is “at a critical point in its existence” and needs to “further modernize and digitize the services”.
Further investment is also needed to minimise the risk of property registration fraud.
A new private owner could accelerate digital transformation.
While the consultation sets out a number of choices, the Government makes it clear that its preferred option is to contractually privatise the operation, but with the Crown retaining ownership of the actual Land Register itself.
The Government says this would mean the core functions transferred out of the public sector, but with key safeguards maintained. However, it could raise question marks as to how a new Land Registry owner might make money, when it is also expected to invest.