A tale of two datasets

A Tale of Two Cities

This is a tale of two datasets – an open data set and a free dataset.

Last Tuesday at GeoMob, Anna Powell-Smith gave an absolutely brilliant talk about the work that she had done with Private Eye to uncover the extent of foreign company ownership of UK property. It wasn’t straight forward as the Land registry seems to be reluctant to make the data available (there is a lot more than raw Land Registry data in the final dataset that underpins the map)

My favourite quote from Anna’s talk was about Gadaffi’s son’s house in Highgate

Anna finished her talk by announcing that Private Eye would be making the data available for download at https://www.private-eye.co.uk/registry (you can also view the map at here)

I could go on and on about what a brilliant piece of data journalism this is, how it is one of the best OpenData proof cases for transparency and accountability, yada yada. But that’s not what this post is about.

On the 17th March, just a couple of days after the announcement at GeoMob (I don’t know whether this was the first announcement of the release of the data by Private Eye) and the day before the actual release, the Land Registry announced its release of Overseas Company Data. Interesting timing or coincidence? Still it must be a good thing if the Land Registry are going to make this data open and maintain it? But they aren’t

The free dataset contains every title registered to an overseas company up to 31 October 2015. This dataset will not be refreshed or updated.

The Overseas Companies dataset is not released under the Open Government Licence. To download the data, you must provide some information about yourself and accept the terms and conditions.

So it’s a one time release, it’s not OpenData and you have to provide personal data to access it. I’d call that a triple fail.

Fail Reel

You may recall that in last week’s widely acclaimed budget the Chancellor announced that

The government will shortly consult on options to move the operations of the Land Registry to the private sector

I think I may have to write to the Chancellor again about his privatisation fetish. I may be a cynic, actually strike the word ‘may’, and I wonder whether the impending rush to flog off the Land Registry has anything to do with this non-OpenData release. OpenData releases probably don’t sit comfortably with management trying to maximise the value of the Land Registry. It’s not just me who isn’t gung ho for the privatisation of the Land Registry, quite a few other people seem to be concerned, see the Law Gazette for example.

This afternoon an announcement appeared on .gov.uk launching the consultation on Land Registry’s future operating mode. Call me a cynic again but why do you launch a consultation on the afternoon before the Easter weekend? If you care about OpenData (and Land registry has some of the most desirable OpenData target datasets) or if you think that the Land Registry is too important to be sold off to the highest bidder or if you have doubts about the proposed safeguards then you might want to respond to the consultation.

Don’t forget that there is another privatisation on the cards during this parliament (assuming George keeps his job till 2020) and the outcome of the Land Registry privatisation may influence the next one.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Who knew Charles Dickens was into OpenData?

Update – 29/03/16

John Manthorpe, the former Chief Land Registrar, wrote a powerful piece on the WeOwnIt site entitled “Why privatising the Land Registry is wrong

“Less than two years ago a similar and wide ranging government consultation was conducted by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). This led to an overwhelming rejection of such a proposal from a wide range of stakeholders. Consultees made clear that the Land Registry must remain as a public department of Government. Despite this informed response the Government are now to renew the consultation – presumably disregarding the clear views expressed last year from those who use and depend on the Land Registry’s services. “

He finished by saying

“Land registration is not an activity that any responsible Government can transfer to the private sector.

The Land Registry is a national treasure – sign the petition to keep it that way.”

I am not one for petitions and ‘click democracy’ but just in case that is what it takes I am going to make an exception and sign this one.


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