Land Registry Privatization


#1

Open Knowledge England Full Response (google doc)

Executive Summary (excerpted)

We strongly recommend keeping the Land Registry in public hands and against privatisation on the following grounds:

  • Privatization will undermine current and future open information programs that are making essential, public-interest information about land title and pricings available to the UK public.
  • The Land Registry performs an essential public task which privatization puts at risk. It maintains and provides information of major public importance on land ownership and transfers. In its role, the Land Registry must balance two different goals: maintaining a high quality of service (being effective) and keeping costs low (being efficient). Privatization clearly risks prioritizing cost minimization over quality of service.
  • Benefits of privatization for efficiency or the Exchequer are negligible — or even negative. Efficiency benefits of privatization have generally been over-estimated and are likely especially low in this case where: a) significant efficiencies have already been realized e.g. through digitization) b) there is a clear conflict between cost minimization… In terms of benefits to the Exchequer, privatization involves receiving a fixed payment today in exchange for payments in the future (or sacrificing future incomes). Governments have traditionally undervalued public assets and this is likely here especially as HMG appears anxious to raise capital and eager to pursue privatization. It would be helpful to have sight of the cost model used by HM Treasury to evaluate this privatization.

Should the Land Registry privatization go ahead in spite of objections we recommend the following:

  • The creation of an independent regulator (similar to OfCom) with a clear and powerful public interest mandate that includes provision and promotion of open public access to Land Registry data. (These tasks could be assigned to an existing regulator if an appropriate one exists. However, it should not go to the ICO as they have a different focus around privacy).
  • Strong protections for quality of data and service. The regulator must be able to mandate the collection of specific information and that the information be made open.
  • Consultation with stakeholders: The regulator should consult regularly with key user groups to ensure that appropriate quality of service and data are maintained.
  • Clear rules exist that prevent a privatized Land Registry from undermining or evading requirements to make all data openly available in bulk.
  • As a state-regulated monopolist a privatized Land Registry should have special transparency requirements that including detailed publication of cost and performance information.

On 24 March 2016 UK Government launched a consultation on privatizing the land registry:

Consultation closes on 26 May 2016

Risk to Open Information

Land registry holds essential public interest data about property ownership and prices. Much of this data has been made open data over the last five years thanks to efforts by Open Knowledge and others.

Privatization may put this at risk. The government states they will retain ownership of the register itself. However, we can anticipate strong commercial pressures in a private company to generate revenues and returns and to do this from data services by charging for access to the data and cutting off existing open data provision.

Except from Press Release

Business Secretary Sajid Javid today (24 March 2016) announced the launch of a consultation document setting out the options on moving Land Registry operations into the private sector.

The government is proposing that the Crown will still retain ownership of the Land Register. Government will also continue to offer key protections to customers. This includes fees being set before Parliament and the continuation of the state-backed guarantee when a loss is incurred as a result of a mistake in the register.

The preferred model being proposed is a privatisation of Land Registry consisting of a contract between government and a private operator, with all the core functions transferred out of the public sector, but with key safeguards for Land Registry customers and government being maintained.

Excerpt from consultation document

Paragraph 16 states:

This Government believes that it is important that the Registers continue to be owned by government, and this proposal would not change that. The data within the Registers is protected by Crown copyright and database right as material created by a public body. Land Registry has delegated authority from the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in the National Archives to control and licence the database and copyright in its work and register data. This would not change going forward and the copyright of the Registers would remain under the ownership of
the Crown.

ED: but what about commercial pressures post privatization? Even if the government retain IP in the register, what would happen if, for example, the new owner would not start providing “advance access” to data for a fee? What enforcement mechanism would there be? What happens if the new owner creates new datasets, perhaps using the data they have? Would the Gov retain IP in these and be able to openly license them?

Paragraph 41 lists Government’s priorities for the change:

Subject to meeting these preconditions and delivering value for money any change would be assessed against the Government’s objectives to:

  1. Maximise upfront proceeds for the Exchequer …
  1. Allow classification of the new service delivery organisation to the private sector.

This would allow certain freedoms and incentives appropriate to a private sector organisation to help transform the service.

  1. Deliver a modern, digitally-based service that benefits Land Registry customersas well as taxpayers as a whole.

There is no mention here of the the value of the open information assets that the Land Registry provides. Paragraph 44 following reiterates that gov retains IP ownership of the registers. However, other than cutting costs the only way for a new owner to generate value is to generate revenue from data services. This would naturally bring them into conflict with the open data approach. Thus, the government desire to maximize profit from the sale will naturally put them in conflict with preserving maximal level of open data going forward.

Concern here is all the greater given the prior experience with the Post Office privatization where any hope of the Post Office opening up its postcode database was extinguished once the Post Office went into the private sector.


#2

@MathPascal would you be up for having a read through the consultation PDF to look at what will happen to land registry data and data services?

@nickmhalliday could we publicise this on the Facebook page? I recommend linking here to this forum post and of course the original announcement.

/cc @shevski @petermr - thought this might interest you both …


#3

Yes good idea. Will do. Am in Vienna at moment so not always on line. Definitely worth raising in OKLondon. I was talking to ODI about issues at weekend.


#4

@rufuspollock @nickmhalliday We’re coordinating a response from UK Open Government Network members. Would you be interested in being involved in that?


#5

@TimJHughes that would be great and I am sure we would be happy to sign on as Open Knowledge England!


#6

Great. We’re collecting initial thoughts here and will be drafting something over next fortnight: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A-3ckBTAAIWSwgpSTSD3IaPVWniLoeSd_eNJgrXgDc4/edit?usp=sharing


#7

Yes please. Tim.

Thanks
Nick


#8

@MathPascal @Lata - if you are interested in policy stuff suggest having a look here. In particular, read the summary above and the gov proposal.

@nickmhalliday is going to lead drafting the response and you could help him.


#9

sure, will start having a read. Conscious of the deadlines though so will have to act fairly swiftly in the next two weeks, I see what I can do.


#10

@nickmhalliday can you post update here as per chat Friday. Are you happy to lead on submission?


#11

Hi all,

We definitely should create a response. Below are the questions that have been asked by the consultation.

Q1. You might want to consider how far this has already prejudged what is going to be done and do we object to the whole process in itself?

Q2. In this context its worth bearing in mind the issues around the privatisation of Royal Mail and the Postal Address File. Is that a precedent, useful or otherwise for Land Registry?

Q3. Will Land Registry create another precedent for other data creating bodies in government to be privatised?

Consultation questions:
These are the questions that government has posed in the consultation.
Q1. Do you agree that ownership of the Registers should remain in government?
Q2 - What steps should government take and what safeguards should it put in place to ensure continued and improved access to high-quality and reliable Land Registry data?
Q3 - How could government use this opportunity to improve the quality and accessibility of data produced by Land Registry for all sectors of the economy?
Q4 - On what basis should government manage the relationship with a privately owned Land Registry to ensure Land Registry meets, as far as is reasonable, the data quality and availability requirements of all stakeholders?
Q5. Do you agree that the suggested safeguards should be included in any model?
Q6. Are there any other safeguards that you think should be included?
Q7. Do you agree with the preferred option?
Q8. What are your reasons for your answer to question 7?
Q9. Do you think an alternative model would be better and why?
Q10. Are there other key costs and benefits that you think we have missed?

We probably do not want to directly duplicate what others have already written. The Open Data Institute have a draft response which can be seen here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ol8uw1u7EE9oGYjW0IR9OSXYmtw_Vk5jB_Likfp_rS0/edit#

Here are some more ideas from Simon Briscoe a former colleague on the Open Data User Group https://simonbriscoeblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/land-registry-data-not-for-sale/

There was also a session on Land Registry at Open Data Camp 14 May - the ideas are captured here https://medium.com/@timgdavies/building-an-open-data-infrastructure-for-anti-corruption-cd2a8d2e7761#.omretpsin


#12

@nickmhalliday this is great. I’ve copied the questions part up in the main topic description and make the topic “wiki-like” so anyone can edit - that way we can draft shared key points there (and I’ve started doing so).


#13

Great thanks. I am not very familiar with the software.

N


#14

We have created a Google doc https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XRP1Krs3nHBDeU6HtijP3S8UhMdKdFlHEYO3okWSV4o of a draft letter that is open for edits. Needs to be finalised before 26 May.

@lata in case you want to contribute.


#15

@nickmhalliday great stuff.

I have now created a fairly detailed executive summary and tidied some questions. A small amount of tidying remains and then we need to submit.

@nickmhalliday would you be happy to do a final look through and fix any remaining TODOs and do the actual submission?


#16

Yep I am at home on Wednesday so can do all that.

N


#17

hi sorry for the non-response. I made some changes under ‘suggestions’ it should be sown in green.

Also found the consultation done by the CMA. There are some good safeguards details


#18

And the Law Commission are planning to update the Land Registration Act 2002 (‘completely separate’ to the privatisation consultation)
http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/updating-the-land-registration-act-2002/


#19

Thank you for following up. I am at home on Wednesday and am planning to tie up any loose ends and send of the submission as agreed with Rufus. N