MP George Freeman denies government has plan to privatise organisation amidst concerns about open data impact; final decision to be taken by ministry in “due course”
The Department for Business Innovation and skills (BIS) has said a decision over the possible privatisation of the Land Registry will be made in “due course”, with life sciences minister George Freeman rejecting suggestions that the government has plans for making such a move.
Opposition politicians and organisations such as the Open Data Institute (ODI) have been critical of any proposed privatisation of the registry over fears it may undermine wider government commitments to open data, transparency and information sharing in the public and private sectors.
Launching its consultation earlier this year, the government has set out its preferred option for retaining ownership of an “accurate” information register, while privatising the Land Registry, a non ministerial department that records property owners in England and Wales.
With the consultation closing last month, Freeman used a parliamentary debate held on Thursday (June 30) about moving the organisation into the private sector to set out the department’s current thinking about future financing of the organisation. “What would be the rationale were the government to take privatisation of the Land Registry forward? Well, I can confirm that the government have absolutely no plans for this. We have carried out the consultation and we are in the process of hearing, loud and clear, what is said,” he said. The life sciences minister said the consultation had been considered as a means of determining how the Land Registry could potentially raise substantial extra investment for its operations not provided by the state.
While the government had carried out the consultation to look at how Land Registry functions can be better financed and “thrive more with new freedoms”, the government had no plans for privatisation or received any bids.
“No decision has been made,” he said.
Opening the debate in parliament, MP David Lammy argued that privatising the Land Registry, which posted a surplus in 19 of the last 20 years and paid back £120m to the public purse, could also have serious consequences for transparency and accountability.
Lammy noted particular concern about efforts to tackle corruption particularly through the government’s own acknowledgement of the role of purchasing property as a means of hiding the proceeds of criminal money.
He therefore called for the house to oppose any privatisation plans that he claimed would put short-term profit at the expense of public interest.
Noting previous consultations held during the last parliament, Lammy said, “We are aware that there is a general sense that the government are itching to privatise the Land Registry. Unlike with the 2014 consultation, this time around the status quo is not even being offered as an option.