Land Registry privatisation could breach competition rules

Privatisation of the Land Registry could lead to excessive control of public data, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned.

The government has proposed creating NewCo, a privatised, vertically-integrated land registry, which supplies both monopoly public sector data and commercial products.

In its submission to the inquiry into the proposals, the CMA warned there was a risk that NewCo would not maintain or improve access to the data in order to weaken competition to its products.

It said that government efforts to regulate prices or write safeguards into contracts would not be enough to prevent this.

It recommends further safeguards, such as an enforced obligation on NewCo to provide fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to data, and have a clear allocation of wider market responsibilities, including ensuring potential users are well-informed of the data on offer and monitoring and potentially promoting competition.

The CMA says that the government should use a model which promotes access to Land Registry data at cost-reflective prices, so that it can be commercially exploited by different individuals and businesses.

Therefore, it argues that if the Land Registry is privatised, it should be separated into monopoly and commercial divisions, with the monopoly division prevented from developing commercial products.

It also recommends that steps are taken to make it easier for other commercial businesses to enter the data market.

The Public and Commercial Services Union has also stated its opposition to privatising the registry, warning that the company taking it over may be open to commercial conflicts of interest.

However, the government confirmed that it is planning to go ahead with the plans in the most recent Queen’s Speech.

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