Land Registry Office (Peterborough)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:48 pm on 3rd March 2010.

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Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 4:48 pm, 3rd March 2010

I should congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the way he spliced a set of questions into one rather elegant intervention.

In the time remaining to me, I shall deal with the question of operational independence. I am the Minister and I am accountable. I have taken a keen interest in the process over many months. I have met a large number of parliamentary colleagues and had several meetings with the trade unions involved and with individual members of the Land Registry. I consider myself accountable for the outcome, and I am happy to be held responsible for it.

So far, the arrangements have worked particularly well. We have seen how satisfied customers of the Land Registry are and that it is an efficient organisation. However, it has to change with a changing world. All organisations have to do that. Governments and politicians have to do so, and so does the private sector. That is the world that we live in-a world of rapid change-and good organisations respond effectively and rapidly to that change. That is what the Land Registry is doing.

I am sorry if this seems a bit of a tease, but I have to tell hon. Members that the Land Registry board has considered the consultation thoroughly and taken account of it. I can say from my own knowledge and experience that it has been open and transparent. It has gone into the consultation with a genuinely open mind. It has made its recommendations, which are being considered by Ministers and, as always, by the Treasury. The outcome of the process will be announced very shortly. I hope that hon. Members will pass that information on to their constituents.

I know that it has been a difficult time, but we are approaching a resolution. Ministers and the Land Registry itself are conscious of the need to bring the uncertainty to an end. We understand that it has been destabilising, but it is worth remembering why we are in this position.

The hon. Member for Peterborough referred to the downturn in the property market. It is worth setting out how severe it has been. Transaction levels, which are the key factor for the Land Registry, will have fallen from 16.1 million in 2007-08 to a projected 10 million in 2009-10. The Land Registry receives no central funding because it is a trading fund; it depends on the fees that it receives for services rendered. It made a loss of £130 million in 2008-09 compared with a surplus of about £70 million in 2007-08.

It is a severe problem for any organisation to have to change the nature of its business. The Land Registry has been well run for many years and it has had reserves, but it has to respond to the changing market. No one knows what will happen to the property market, and the trading fund has to be prudent in its approach. However, underlying all that is a fundamental change in the way that it does business.

It is important to remember that the blueprint for the transformation programme was published nearly four years ago in 2006. It was clear then that the Land Registry would have to become a smaller organisation and deal with its customers differently. An increasing range of services have become available online and there have been improvements in efficiency, as we expect of all public sector organisations.