Consultation response on moving Land Registry operations to the private sector

In its consultation response, the ODI stresses that core data assets are essential to our data infrastructure, and government should be creating healthy and open markets, not centralised monopolies

Read the ODI’s Land Registry Consultation Response in full here

The UK Government is consulting on moving the operations of the Land Registry for England and Wales to the private sector. The new company would be called “NewCo”.

The Open Data Institute’s mission is to connect, enable and inspire people to innovate with data. We work globally. Last year the UK government asked the ODI to bring the voice of data businesses and innovators to the Cabinet Office and promote data innovation across government.

The Open Data Institute’s response is based on our focus on data and was produced with assistance from our global network. It uses our openly produced themes for this response, draft principles for data infrastructure, the evidence of the value of open data and the importance of data as infrastructure to a 21st-century economy.

The Land Registry’s impact on our society and economy is wide and far-reaching. Whilst its core services underpin the property market, the data that the Land Registry holds and publishes is used in many more sectors. The data allows people to build services that help people, businesses and governments to make better decisions.

The consultation is flawed in its lack of information about these uses and lack of understanding of the risks inherent in creating a private sector NewCo that would hold a monopoly over this data and will be competing with its own customers in producing services that use it.

We recognise the government’s overarching objective of a capital receipt but it is clear that the proposed approach is significantly flawed.

In the Open Data Institute’s response we propose that if the Government chooses to continue with its plans it should:

  1. separate the data registry from the end-user services built on top of it before the move to the private sector
  2. create and deliver on a legislative framework to make the UK’s data infrastructure as open as possible
  3. ensure that the organisation that maintains the data registry is subject to Freedom of Information legislation
  4. ensure the oversight function has the necessary skills and powers to oversee both the Land Registry and the market of services that use the data it publishes
  5. publish any information it holds that describes how the Land Registry’s data is used and the value that this creates

We understand the impact these recommendations will have on the upfront price that government may receive but it will be a better long-term choice. Many private sector bidders will want to take the easy route of profit from a position of monopoly over the Land Registry’s data but organisations that maintain core data assets are essential to our data infrastructure and must be as open as possible. They should be creating healthy and open markets, not centralised monopolies.

Government could still choose to retain the Land Registry in the public sector. In which case our recommendations to release more open data, to free it from restrictive third party data and to publish information about the value the Land Registry’s data creates would continue to apply.

As the Land Registry, and other trading funds, continue down the path to privatisation, government needs to ensure that the data they maintain is as open and accessible as possible. In many cases that means more open than it is already. If government continues with the privatisation without these, or similar, corrections then it risks repeating the historic mistakes that it made with the Royal Mail privatisation and that it is now having to unpick.

If government does not make difficult choices such as correcting its proposed model, or reconsidering whether privatisation is even appropriate for such as an important piece of data infrastructure as land and property ownership, then it risks weakening our data infrastructure.

This will damage many of the services we currently receive, weaken innovation, increase the chance of corruption and decrease economic stability.

Read the ODI’s Land Registry Consultation Response in full here