CMA decries Land Registry privatisation in consultation response

The Competition and Markets Authority have raised concerns over the effects of a potential privatisation of Land Registry.

Writing to the Department for Business and Skills’s Lizzie Dixon, the senior director at the CMA says the gobvernment’s preferred model for privatisation is unlikely to deliver the benefits consumers want, the wide access to Land Registry data at cost-reflective prices, encouraging its use and commercial exploitation by a range of individuals and businesses.

The CMA’s senior director, John Kirkpatrick wrote: “As set out in our response to question eight, our view is that a privatised, vertically integrated Land Registry (government’s preferred option) would be unlikely to deliver this outcome, despite the best efforts of oversight bodies to regulate prices and write safeguards into a contract or licence.

“In particular, we are concerned that there is a significant risk that a vertically-integrated, privatised business (‘NewCo’) engaged in both the supply of monopoly data and the supply of commercial products (which use the monopoly data as an input) would not maintain or improve access to the monopoly data; and despite price-regulation on its monopoly activities, NewCo may degrade the terms of access to its monopoly data in order to weaken competition to its own commercial products.

“While these risks are not unique to privately-owned monopolies, our view is that they may be sharpened by the introduction of a profit motive.”

The News Media Association, trade body for UK news publishers, has also responded to the consultation with concerns over transparency, as a privatised body could be out of the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

In its response the NMA expressed concern that the sell-off plans do not explain how a privatised Land Registry could be required to continue to increase the information it puts into the public domain. It also notes that the consultation doesn’t preclude subjecting additional data releases to higher fees or restrictive licences.

Lucy Gill, the NMA’s Legal, policy and regulatory affairs advisor said: “A privatised Land Registry would have a strong commercial incentive to do this and the chilling effect on journalists’ ability to access this information would be profound.

“Once privatised, the Land Registry would cease to be a public body and therefore could be removed from freedom of information legislation. This would put a large amount of important information beyond the press and the public’s right to know.”

The NMA’s concerns echo those expressed by the Open Data Institute, which has said: “at a time when government is trying to break down organisational silos and use data better within government it is strange to see it building barriers in our data infrastructure.”

The consultation closes on Thursday.

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