The property market and ownership is and always has been a key area in the economy of the nation at different levels. The one that obsesses us at present is its prominence in financial services which in turn have become so important. This can lead us to forget that if affects all our lives and in many ways.
One of the basic services and perhaps the key asset in how we manage and record property in the UK are The Land Registries. Wikipedia has a page on Land Registration that briefly sets out what it is and what it does and The Land Registry for England and Wales is described.
We take it very much for granted, often just regarding it as one of those bureaucratic fees that have to paid when buying and selling. But a basic efficient, low cost, reliable and accessible Registry is crucial to getting the business done and keeping a record of who owns what land where.
Without this, as in the past, property ownership, claims to it and buying and selling could become a legal nightmare. The reason for its existence after 1925 as compulsory as opposed to the late 19th Century voluntary system was the number of court cases, often costly, and the length of time it took to get even basic decisions. Also, increasing local taxation depending on property tax needed a reliable base.
Now our government have decided to sell it to the biggest buyer and it is likely that ownership of this basic national legal asset will go to a finance company based abroad and beyond UK jurisdiction. It will also have an effective monopoly and it is probable that the charges will increase substantially to allow the company to cream off profits at a level for trading purposes and to allow it high leverage.
What has not been considered by the government, Cameron, Osborne and Sajid Javid, are the real potential risks and the implications. Javid's background of Chase Manhattan and Deutsche Bank, the land of lost mortgage titles in the USA and CDO's lost in the ether, does not inspire confidence. In his time at DB it took out a lien on the company that has most of the UK's retirement properties, which is owned by a trust based in The Cayman's belonging to some interesting people, contributors to the Conservative Party.
If The Land Registry sale were to result down the line in major problems, this will not mean simply some administrative hiccups to be sorted or computer glitches, it could entail a disastrous failure across the property market. Present Council Taxation needs this information base. More important one of the most important and key records for both government and private land and property activity effectively could be out of use or even lost.
There may be a reason for this and if it is a factor it should give us all alarm never mind concern. It is all too clear in London and to a lesser extent elsewhere that a great deal of property has become a store of wealth for people engaged in asset stripping of nations, corruption, embezzlement, crime, money laundering and the rest.
In short, it has little to do with the real housing market and a lot to do with hiding the stolen money with a little help from your friends. We do know just how friendly a number of our leading politicians recently have been to the super rich and their interests. If the Land Registry is removed and cannot be accessed by the curious then neither ordinary interests nor tax authorities can check up on property and the money movement involved.
The New Economics Foundation has a blog item from 2015 which is short and to the point Quite why the media have taken so little interest in this given the number of TV programmes devoted to property and the extent of the typical coverage is a mystery. The Guardian has just had a brief and superficial comment on the fact that it is a privatisation. Private Eye has been pursuing this and the latest issue does have something to say.
What next? An obvious target is The National Archive, all that expensive vellum, paper, space and people. Why not flog it off to a concrete making company that specialises in liquidised waste paper as part of the fill? No more hard copy, just digitise the lot and give Google the job.
The simple question is would you really hand over the deeds to your house as a guarantee to a door to door salesman who is selling insurance from a company based in The Caymans funded by some unknown Russians?