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Land Registry customer satisfaction under threat if frontline services are slashed

Individuals and businesses in the South East of England would be grossly disadvantaged by proposals to close the five HM Land Registry offices in South-East England, the FDA said today. The FDA is the union representing senior managers and professionals in the civil service.

The Land Registry's 'accelerated transformation programme' which is currently out for consultation, would see offices in Croydon, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Stevenage and Tunbridge Wells close, leaving a huge swathe of the country without any coverage.

Ro Marsh, FDA national officer, said: "Land Registry provides a frontline public service and many will regard the proposals as badly thought through and irrational.

"Cutting five out of a total of 18 Land Registry offices - and staff numbers by around 1,500 - would have a significant negative knock-on effect for the public and businesses in the areas affected.

"The public and local businesses may not be fully aware of the difficulties that would arise if the offices are closed. Offices currently offer a range of free walk-in services, including an over-the-counter identity check service, for customers who are not represented by a solicitor or conveyancer, and which is required under its extensive anti-fraud measures. If this is no longer available because of office closures, customers will have to pay fees for the service to be provided by solicitors and other conveyancers. It is also currently possible to visit a local office to check title plans in cases of boundary disputes.

"If the proposals go ahead, travel to the nearest Land Registry office could involve a round trip of 150 miles or more."

The FDA is urging members of the public to respond to the public consultation on the closures by emailing consultations@landregistry.gsi.gov.uk before the 29 January 2010 deadline. Further information can be found at: http://www1.landregistry.gov.uk/consultations.

Marsh added: "The FDA believes the workforce can be reduced as required by targeted redundancy packages across the organisation, with the excess estate disposed of and replaced by smaller cheaper premises in existing locations. This would avoid compulsory redundancies and additions to numbers of unemployed, and would equip Land Registry with the skills and assets it will need when activity picks up in the property market in the future."

Notes for editors:

1. The FDA has described the Accelerated Transformation Programme (ATP) as a slash-and-burn operation, based on estimates and assumptions that are little more than educated speculation.

2. Land Registry employs around 5,800 staff at 18 different sites across England and Wales. The ATP proposals, which are the subject of consultation until the end of January 2010, involve shutting 5 regional offices, leaving the South East of England with no operational local office presence from September 2011. Other aspects of the programme involve the sale of the historic London Head Office building in Lincoln's Inn Fields, extensive outsourcing of functions, the shedding of a quarter of the workforce of all grades (many by compulsory redundancy), new working processes and marketing initiatives aimed at increasing revenue from non-statutory add value products. A further round of cuts will follow in 2011.

3. Over the past 3 years, more than 96% of its customers have rated its services as good, very good or excellent. As a trading fund, it is required to make no call on public funds. Although it raised fees in July in response to the drop in intakes resulting from the recession, these are still 16.9% lower than they were in 1994. From 2000 to 2008, it returned year-on-year average productivity improvement rates of 10%.

4. The FDA is also concerned at the loss to the organisation of skilled staff including lawyers, senior technicians and managers.

5. Approximately 70% of land in England and Wales is now registered, the organisation still being far short of the comprehensive registration coverage it seeks to achieve. The remaining 30% of unregistered land is subject to the old unregistered conveyancing regime, whereby title is shown by production of deeds packets. The registration services Land Registry provides are unique in that, under the governing legislation, legal title to land is conferred by the mere fact of registration, and those rights are binding on the entire world. The registrar therefore exercises quasi-judicial powers, impacting directly on the private rights of citizens and corporate bodies. A statutory compensation scheme backs up the register, in the form of a state guarantee of title to land, interests in land and securities over it. Concerns have been expressed that the commercial focus of the ATP proposals, and market led initiatives, do not sit well with ensuring the integrity of this function, which must be exercised impartially and independently, complying with principles of natural justice and human rights legislation.

6. The impetus for the ATP stems from HM Treasury's Operational Efficiency Programme, which included a review of a number of trading funds, including Land Registry. The effect of the credit crunch and the resultant drop in intakes hit Land Registry hard, and a loss of £61m was made in financial year 2008-09. A further loss of £7.5m is predicted for the current financial year. It is believed, however, that current fee income is sufficient to cover operating costs into the future, the increase having come too late in the financial year to prevent a loss being made.

7. The FDA is the trade union and professional body representing 18,000 of the UK's senior civil and public servants. Our members include policy advisors, senior managers, government lawyers, tax inspectors, economists, statisticians, accountants, special advisers, diplomats, crown prosecutors and NHS managers.

8. The FDA (formerly the First Division Association) should be referred to simply as "The FDA" and can be described as "the senior public servants' union".

9. For further information contact:

Ro Marsh, FDA national officer, tel: 020 7401 5564.

Oliver Rowe, FDA communications officer, tel: 020 7401 5588 or 07590 838696.

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