The government - which controversially launched consultation on its stamp duty surcharge between Christmas and New Year - has now used the Easter holiday period to ask for public comments on its proposal to privatise the Land Registry.
This time the consultation was launched on Thursday evening, as many organisations had closed for the four-day weekend and as many people started travelling for the Easter holiday weekend. The consultation process is open for nine weeks but over five per cent of that time has elapsed already - before the start of the first working day after the consultation was officially launched.
Land Registry privatisation has been a hot potato for some years.
A bid to privatise the Registry in 2014 was vetoed by the then Business Secretary in the coalition government, Sir Vince Cable. However, documents released at the end of the Autumn Statement in November 2015 confirmed earlier speculation that the issue was once again being considered by Chancellor George Osborne, with the Rothschild investment bank asked to consider options.
Some reports say that the Registry, which now employs 4,500 people and has had a monopoly on recording land and property information in England and Wales since 1862, could be worth £1.2 billion.
In early 2014 there was substantial criticism from within the property industry of activities at the Land Registry, which some interpreted as preparations for privatisation. In August 2014 Estate Agent Today reported that up to 15 per cent of jobs at Land Registry offices were at risk because of alleged over-capacity.
"Over the next couple of years we estimate that the efficiencies we will deliver will create the capacity to free up approximately 15 per cent of the workforce. That capacity may result in people being redeployed .... but it may also mean some staff reductions" said an email sent to staff in the summer of 2014, shortly after the ‘Cable veto’ was used.
The trade body the Council of Property Search Organisations has been particularly critical of possible Registry privatisation although it has yet to comment on last weekend’s news.
The consultation - which you can see here - suggests that even once in private ownership the Land Registry fees would be set before Parliament for confirmation.
A statement from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, accompanying the consultation document, says: “The preferred model being proposed is a privatisation of Land Registry consisting of a contract between government and a private operator, with all the core functions transferred out of the public sector, but with key safeguards for Land Registry customers and government being maintained.”
It goes on: “The sale of Land Registry will allow government to pay down debt, or enable other investment for the benefit of taxpayers. It is expected that a move into the private sector would also allow Land Registry to become even more efficient and effective as part of its transformation programme.”
The consultation closes on May 26.