Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/763/16607
Land Registry: Fight Con-Dems' privatisation plans
A PCS member
As well as trying to sell off Royal Mail, the government apparently has its eyes on Companies House, the Land Registry, the Met Office and Ordnance Survey.
This will raise alarm bells for workers in all these organisations. But the Land Registry's public sector status is already under scrutiny with up to 1,000 of the current 4,500 jobs under threat over the next five years.
The Land Registry maintains a register of freehold and leasehold land across England and Wales. This provides security for land and home ownership and allows people to easily and securely buy and sell property.
But the Land Registry's current purpose is now: "to enable the release of economic value in land and property and related data markets".
This signals the organisation aligning itself with the market rather than delivering a public service.
The Land Registry has been in existence for more than 150 years but there are still vast swathes of unregistered land.
Significant amounts of this are likely either to be held by wealthy trusts or owned by corporations. Consequently this land remains in the same hands from generation to generation.
This means that the trigger that requires registration (the sale of land) is never reached. The land's ownership remains hidden and consequently there is no accountability.
A more comprehensive register would provide greater transparency for the ownership of land in England and Wales, but for this to become a reality, this needs to become a compulsory process.
PCS, the largest union representing staff in the Land Registry, believes that Land Registry staff have the necessary skills to expand the role of Land Registry into planning and controlling the use of land.
This could have massive social benefits in addressing the housing shortage and for the environmentally friendly use of land.
It is vital that the Land Registry remains in the public sector with enforceable powers backed by the weight of government. This will also be crucial to maintain public confidence in the conveyancing process.
PCS has indicated it is prepared to launch a massive campaign to defend members' jobs, terms and conditions and crucially the Land Registry's civil service status, potentially including the use of industrial action.
On 18 April, to compound the worries of workers, Michael Fallon the business minister, appointed Ed Lester as the new Land Registry chief executive.
Lester previously worked for the Student Loans Company (SLC), the privatisation-related problems there have been well documented.
Worse still, it has been reported that he was paid through a private firm - a tax avoidance mechanism.
This has not been well received by low-paid civil servants in the middle of a two-year pay freeze. Workers are worried that his appointment is part of the rush towards privatisation.
The Land Registry has won awards for being a flagship employer, but it may end up sailing on the sea of privatisation with the Jolly Roger overhead.
In The Socialist 1 May 2013:
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