Former Land Registry chief attacks privatisation plans

Written by Civil Service World on 6 April 2016 in News

John Manthorpe accuses government of wanting to "sell the Land Registry for a quick price to reduce the deficit"

Plans to privatise the Land Registry are "misguided" and "wrong", the organisation's former chief land registrar John Manthorpe has warned.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) last month detailed its plans to move the Land Registry – which keeps an up-to-date register of land ownership in England and Wales – to the private sector by 2017, as part of wider plans to raise £5bn from government asset sales. 

A BIS consultation says the organisation's registers would continue to be owned by government, but argues that "there is no need for the core functions of the Land Registry to be delivered by civil servants", and that a new private sector owner for the organisation "could bring new knowledge and investment" into the Land Registry.

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But the proposals have drawn fire from the Public and Commercial Service union, which has pointed out that the Land Registry – which employs some 4,500 civil servants working over 14 offices in England and Wales – already covers its running costs, with responses to an earlier consultation on part-privatisation largely siding against such a move.

Manthorpe, who served for ten years as the Land Registry's chief executive and five years as its chief land registrar, has accused the government of "ignoring this clear response", saying it instead wants to "sell the Land Registry for a quick price to reduce the deficit".

Writing in The Guardian, Manthrope says the "massive movement of interests in land" currently overseen by the organisation mean it must remain "authoritative" and publicly-run.

"Across the world, a trusted system of land registration is central to social stability and economic success," he writes.

"The registry’s independence from commercial or specialised interests is essential to the trust and reliance placed on its activities. It would not be possible for actual or perceived impartiality to be maintained, or public confidence sustained, if a private company were to assume responsibility for the maintenance of a public register."

Manthorpe urges ministers to retain the Land Registry "as a public department of government – as it has been for over 150 years".

BIS's consultation on its plans runs until May 26. Launching that document, BIS 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."

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