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Land Registry sell-off halted - now jobs fight needed
Dave Lunn, Vice-president, PCS Land Registry group (personal capacity)
In the Socialist issue 817 (2 July 2014), I reported that the government was expected to abandon plans to privatise the Land Registry.
The formal announcement was eventually made by Land Registry minister Michael Fallon on 14 July. This u-turn illustrated clear splits in the Coalition government, with Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable believed to have influenced the decision following the disastrous and unpopular Post Office sell-off.
The overwhelming reason for the climbdown however was the massive campaign led by the PCS civil service union, galvanising the public, industry professionals and others into a powerful coalition of opposition.
Action gets results
Ultimately, the two days of solid industrial action on 14 and 15 May were a decisive factor. This view was supported by the Mail on Sunday, usually no friend of workers: "Controversial plans to privatise the Land Registry have been scrapped by the government after a revolt by civil servants".
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "This is a hugely significant victory for our members and the industry professionals who ran a fantastic campaign, together exposing the emptiness of the government's case."
But concerns remain that privatisation could be back on the agenda following the 2015 general election.
However, privatisation is not the only threat hanging over our members' heads. On 29 July, Land Registry chief executive Ed Lester announced that the Land Registry LR Connect digitisation programme will go ahead, expressed by industry experts as 'digital at any cost'.
The plans mean dumbing down Land Registry services, reducing the scrutiny of highly skilled and impartial civil servants and increased customer 'self-serve'.
The primary driver behind digitisation is cutting as many staff as possible. PCS has called for public consultation, something that to date the Land Registry has rejected.
PCS has consistently demanded the current UK network of offices is retained with no compulsory redundancies.
Management has announced that no office closures would happen before July 2016. But the PCS must step up its campaign, refocussing the coalition of opposition to privatisation to defending Land Registry offices and jobs. Further industrial action cannot be ruled out.
In The Socialist 6 August 2014:
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