The fact that ministers put out a proposal to privatise HM Land Registry when few would notice it indicates they know they are on a sticky wicket.
Ministers tried to privatise the registry, which collates information on all house sales in England and Wales, but were beaten back two years ago by overwhelming public opposition.
The short-term gain of maybe a billion in a sale is slightly reducing the national debt, but there will be a longer term cost because the registry is a self-funding trading fund, which brings in an annual surplus of over £100m and scores a 95 per cent customer satisfaction rating.
Privatisation could risk public trust and damage good services. It could jeopardise over 3,500 jobs, including nearly 500 in Durham. It is probable that a privatised registry would increase charges to homebuyers.
I am also deeply concerned that some of those considering a bid have links to offshore tax havens, and I think that the registry’s independence from commercial or specialised interests boosts public confidence in there being no conflicts of interest.
Public isn’t always good and private isn’t always bad, but in this case a publicly owned registry is best for a quality, trusted, fair and impartial service.
Ministers should scrap plans to privatise this 150-year-old service. It does a good job, costs us nothing, and we gain more from it being publicly owned.