Far from quiet on the politics front...

A potential police strike, a tricky climate deal and a contentious EU treaty - it's been a busy week

A relatively quiet week for the government, in the context of the past couple of months: only threatened police strikes, a contentious EU treaty and a tricky international climate change deal to negotiate.

Jacqui Smith’s decision not to backdate a 2.5% pay rise for police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, prompted Lenin’s Tomb to write: "While public sector workers are ‘valued’ in a sentimental fashion, the general implication is that union leaders should shut their mouths and accept a period of belt-tightening in order to keep Brown's ‘Miracle Gro’ economy afloat."

Less sympathy can be found at A Tangle Web: "I say the police should damn the law and strike. It’s not as if we’ll miss them if they withold their labour. We learn today that they are on the beat for one hour in seven - as much as that, eh? Ministers often make the claim that there are more police officers than ever before and they speak the truth. There are more officers than at any other time, yet the police has never been less visible to Britons."

This hyperbole is perhaps explained when the post later reveals: "Yesterday a turd in a police uniform stepped from behind a bush and recorded me driving at 38mph whilst leaving a 30mph zone on my way out of a small rural town."

Daniel Finkelstein queries Brown’s defence that the decision was made to keep inflation low: "The deal isn’t big enough to cause inflation by forcing the government to borrow. So he can only mean that a large amount being paid to police would encourage other large pay increases. Fair enough. Except that the headline amount, the permanent part of the increase, is the one that will drive other wage claims and any increases based on comparability. If inflation was the issue it would have been better, surely, to have offered a smaller headline figure and then backdated it. So it seems more likely that public."

With Eurosceptics among the most conspicuous in the blogosphere, the signing of the Lisbon Treaty did not go unnoticed. For The Huntsman, it was "surely one of the most dishonourable and dishonest acts by a British Prime Minister since the early hours of 30th September 1938 when Chamberlain effectively signed away Czechoslovak independence to Germany".

While, Cranmer writes: “Nations tend to get the leaders of which they are worthy, and there is little doubt that the people of the United Kingdom deserve this - for their apathy, ignorance, and indifference. The reality is that so few care because so few understand, and so few understand because they are more absorbed by Big Brother, X Factor, Come Dancing and the National Lottery, than they are by matters spiritual and political."

As environmental concerns took centre stage in Bali, despite the US and Canada holding out on agreeing to emission cuts, John Redwood manages to lay the blame at the EU's feet: "The EU should grow up, and learn that if the world is to reduce its carbon output it requires goodwill and understanding on all sides, not a combination of bullying and vain posturing. We will not cure the world’s CO2 problem unless India and China, Japan and Russia are involved as well as the USA."

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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The Land Registry sale puts a quick buck before common sense

Without a publicly-owned Land Registry, property scandals would be much harder to uncover.

Britain’s family silver is all but gone. Sale after sale since the 1970s has stripped the cupboards bare: our only assets remaining are those either deemed to be worth next to nothing, or significantly contribute to the Treasury’s coffers.

A perfect example of the latter is the Land Registry, which ensures we’re able to seamlessly buy and sell property.

This week we learned that London’s St Georges Wharf tower is both underoccupied and largely owned offshore  - an embodiment of the UK’s current housing crisis. Without a publicly-owned Land Registry, this sort of scandal would be much harder to uncover.

On top of its vital public function, it makes the Treasury money: a not-insignificant £36.7m profit in 2014/15.

And yet the government is trying to push through the sale of this valuable asset, closing a consultation on its proposal this week.

As recently as 2014 its sale was blocked by then business secretary Vince Cable. But this time Sajid Javid’s support for private markets means any opposition must come from elsewhere.

And luckily it has: a petition has gathered over 300,000 signatures online and a number of organisations have come out publically against the sale. Voices from the Competition and Markets Authority to the Law Society, as well as unions, We Own It, and my organisation the New Economics Foundation are all united.

What’s united us? A strong and clear case that the sale of the Land Registry makes no sense.

It makes a steady profit and has large cash reserves. It has a dedicated workforce that are modernising the organisation and becoming more efficient, cutting fees by 50 per cent while still delivering a healthy profit. It’s already made efforts to make more data publically available and digitize the physical titles.

Selling it would make a quick buck. But our latest report for We Own It showed that the government would be losing money in just 25 years, based on professional valuations and analysis of past profitability.

And this privatisation is different to past ones, such as British Airways or Telecoms giants BT and Cable and Wireless. Using the Land Registry is not like using a normal service: you can’t choose which Land Registry to use, you use the one and only and pay the list price every time that any title to a property is transacted.

So the Land Registry is a natural monopoly and, as goes the Competition and Market Authority’s main argument, these kinds of services should be publically owned. Handing a monopoly over to a private company in search of profit risks harming consumers – the new owners may simply charge a higher price for the service, or in this case put the data, the Land Registry’s most valuable asset, behind a paywall.

The Law Society says that the Land Registry plays a central role in ensuring property rights in England and Wales, and so we need to ensure that it maintains its integrity and is free from any conflict of interest.

Recent surveys have shown that levels of satisfaction with the service are extremely high. But many of the professional bodies representing those who rely on it, such as the Law Society and estate agents, are extremely sceptical as to whether this trust could be maintained if the institution is sold off.

A sale would be symbolic of the ideological nature of the proposal. Looked at from every angle the sale makes no sense – unless you believe that the state shouldn’t own anything. Seen through this prism and the eyes of those in the Treasury, all the Land Registry amounts to is £1bn that could be used to help close the £72bn deficit before the next election.

In reality it’s worth so much more. It should stay free, open and publically owned.

Duncan McCann is a researcher at the New Economics Foundation