Land Registry – data not for sale?

Yesterday I wrote about the launch of the new ONS house prices series. One huge risk was the announcement a week ago of the impending sale of the Land Registry, on whose data the new index would be based. The ONS refused to comment on this at their presentation (and the Land Registry representative was silent) fuelling concerns of those present. It seems, however, that all is not lost. The consultation document about the sale sets out to guard the data. Even so, those who lived through the loss of the PAF address register as part of the sale of Royal Mail will not be convinced that a deal can be struck until it is agreed. It seems that a purchaser is required to sign an open ended deal that would allow government to be in control of the data and set the rules about what is to be collected and how it is to be disseminated. Really? The Chancellor needs his money and a deal needs to be done ………. who has the best hand?

The consultation has the following paragraphs:

“60. The Government is committed to making data available on a free and open basis and improving the UK’s data infrastructure. At present, Land Registry makes a significant amount of the data it holds freely and openly available. This is then used by other organisations as the basis for building products; including those of a commercial nature they can offer the public. The data is therefore greatly valuable and has the potential to be utilised by all parts of the wider economy. The Government recognises the importance of this data, and is committed to:

i) Maintaining current open data products on the same or better basis as at present: including but not limited to ‘Transaction Data’, ‘Price Paid Data’, House Price Index’, ‘INSPIRE Index Polygons’ and the ‘1862 Act Register’;

ii) Releasing more open data, where this fulfils other public policy goals and represents value for money. Future releases might include the ‘Commercial and Corporate Ownership Dataset’ and ‘National Polygon Service’, as well as consideration of other Land Registry data for which the release could fulfil other public policy goals and offer value for money;

iii) Exploring how to enable the public sector to have free at the point of use access to Land Registry data for policy development and service delivery purposes.

61. Land Registry data also plays an essential role in the formulation of Government policy. The Government therefore also expects that, as a result of this transaction, overall accessibility and quality of data will increase. This is in line with government’s commitment to supporting a data-driven economy and should allow more effective policy formulation thereby reducing costs to taxpayers.”

That sounds great. Really great. But is it deliverable?

When you read the questions posed in the consultation it starts to look a more distant prospect.

“Q2 – What steps should government take and what safeguards should it put in place to ensure continued and improved access to high-quality and reliable Land Registry data?

Q3 – How could government use this opportunity to improve the quality and accessibility of data produced by Land Registry for all sectors of the economy?

Q4 – On what basis should government manage the relationship with a privately owned Land Registry to ensure Land Registry meets, as far as is reasonable, the data quality and availability requirements of all stakeholders?”

They are good questions and I have no answers. All I know is that it has been struggle getting out of Land Registry what has been got out of them – and they are publicly owned! Why not spend the next few months getting all the data out (and open) so that at least the third question is no longer an issue? That would be the sign of a government that is serious about open data. Over to GDS/ONS/UKSA/BIS?

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