In the latest sign of a wind of change, the organisation responsible for registering property titles has invited businesses to build a pioneering new information system rather than do the job itself.
Land Registry, which handles property titles in England and Wales, last week offered to support commercial developers of websites that display details of each stage in a housebuying chain. The move follows the 2007 shelving of the registry's "Chain Matrix" system after a £4.6m pilot.
The idea of the system was to reduce the uncertainties of housebuying by allowing all parties in a chain to see what stage of the process had been reached by everyone else. It was to be the centrepiece and public face of a scheme to computerise the entire conveyancing process.
However, the scheme was postponed at the end of 2007 after a pilot showed little interest from conveyancers or their clients. "Many citizens were either not aware or not convinced of the benefits of Chain Matrix and many prevented their conveyancer from entering their transactions on to Chain Matrix," an evaluation reported. The plan also alarmed some businesses, which feared being squeezed out of the property information market.
Last week's announcement may assuage some of these fears. The registry offered to "support developers and commercial enterprises that want to develop Chain Matrix and electronic funds transfer-type services". Although Land Registry is a self-governing trading fund, the move reflects the government's "Power of Information" agenda, which encourages public bodies to make their core information freely available to developers of "value-added" information services, rather than trying to do everything themselves.
Peter Collis, chief land registrar and chief executive of Land Registry, defended the original move to develop the system: "Land Registry's decision to launch Chain Matrix was taken at a time when no private investor was prepared to be the first to establish such a wide-ranging cross-industries initiative." By "seeding the market with the prototype" and "developing good examples of technical functionality", the registry had paved the way for the private sector, Collis said.
A proposal to abolish the term "Crown Copyright" may appear in the final report from the Power of Information taskforce. A commenter on the taskforce's blog has proposed adopting the term "Common Copyright" or "Crown Commons" as "a symbolic move". In response, John Sheridan at the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) agrees with the need to do "something symbolic", but warns against confusing Crown copyright, which "is about ownership", with the Creative Commons licensing scheme. He says OPSI's existing click-use licence "is already more liberal ... and less legalistic" than crown copyright.
In its comment, the government's advisory panel on public sector information welcomes proposals to simplify licensing. "If an organisation or individual uses data from several public bodies then there is a risk of it being difficult to use the resulting product. What appear to be small fees can quickly add up. These factors tend to inhibit innovation."
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