A couple of hundred civil service jobs in Croydon have been saved – though not because of any action by the Labour-run local council nor the Tory MP for Croydon Central, but following a trades union-led public outcry against the privatisation of the Land Registry.
The Tories’ austerity chancellor, Gideon Osborne, wanted to make a quick buck – well, £1.2 billion – by handing over the self-sustaining government department to private interests.
Trafalgar House on Bedford Park in West Croydon has been the Land Registry’s head office since 2011. The Land Registry’s Croydon office is one of 14 around the country, which have nearly 4,500 staff working on the ownership records of all land and property in England and Wales.
With Osborne gone, Government ministers have now quietly dropped the proposed sell-off in the face of a backlash from campaigners who warned it would make it harder to track tax avoidance and hold people to account.
It is worth noting that the MP for the area, Croydon Central’s Gavin Barwell – “a strong voice for Croydon”, according to Barwell’s own publicity – has been silent on the matter of the Land Registry privatisation, neither welcoming his Government’s privatisation proposals, nor opposing what could threaten hundreds of jobs in his constituency. And Barwell, of course, has recently been made Minister for Planning…
The sell-off of another public asset was originally included in the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.
Unions and opposition MPs last night welcomed the decision to shelve the sale but said the plans should be ditched completely.
“We showed two years ago, and again this time round, that selling off the Land Registry would be stupid and wrong, serving only private companies looking to profit from homeowners’ data,” said Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS, the Public and Commercial Services union.
“We welcome the Government’s pause, but the plan should be scrapped in its entirety, never to see the light of day again, and the Land Registry should remain fully in public hands.”
David Lammy, the Labour MP, said, “I call on the Government to formally announce that they will be completely scrapping these plans. It would clearly not be in the public interest for the Government to sell off the Land Registry to a private company, therefore making it easier for secretive trusts and shell companies to purchase properties in the UK whilst hiding behind shady and opaque offshore arrangements.”
Earlier this year, when the Land Registry sale was raised at a Croydon Town Hall meeting, Mark Watson, the council’s economic development spokesman, said then that the Land Registry does a “fantastic job” with a 94 per cent user satisfaction rate and that there is “no public interest in privatising” the service and that the council would do all it can to defend local jobs if the service was privatised. Which was not quite the same as proclaiming the council’s all-out opposition to the Tory privatisation.
Today, Andrew Pelling, who was Barwell’s predecessor as Conservative MP for Croydon Central, and is now a local Labour councillor, told Inside Croydon: “The PCS trade union, as in previous attacks on the Land Registry waged a good campaign. The privatisation proposal would have compromised the professional excellence of a key driver of the economy’s prosperity.
“As the local MP, I was part of a successful campaign both to protect the Croydon office from closure and to upgrade it to become the Land Registry national HQ. I am pleased that the office, for now, been saved from the clutches of US private equity funds that would degrade the service.”
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