UNION leaders and an MP have pleaded with the Government to save hundreds of public sector jobs at risk in the North-East.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) consultation on the future of the Land Registry ended last night (Thursday, March 20), with critics warning of privatisation, huge job cuts, loss of confidence and higher charges for the public.

The 150-year-old institution, which handles land and property data, employs 4,400 civil servants across the country, including 440 at Southfield Way, Durham City.

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Kim Lowes, chair of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union’s Durham branch, said: “Staff are fearful and apprehensive. We don’t know where we’re going. There’s a genuine fear for jobs.”

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said: “I want the Government to drop these proposals, which I think are a move towards privatisation.”

The consultation included several options including part-privatisation and letting a private firm run the Registry as a Government-owned organisation.

Ms Lowes said the Registry was working well, the envy of the world and self-financing, making nearly £100m profit for the Treasury last year.

She claimed a Government-run company would soon be privatised, leading to lower standards, a loss of confidence from lawyers and in the housing sector and higher charges for the public.

The consultation should have included a “status quo” option, she said.

Dr Blackman-Woods said: “The Land Registry deals with very, very sensitive information.

“All the professional bodies are saying the system works well and people have faith and confidence in it. If it’s not broken, why fix it?

“It works well and it’s returning money to the Treasury, so it’s not an austerity issue. It has to be an ideological issue, and that’s not good enough.”

A spokesman for DBIS, which has said full privatisation is not being considered at this stage, said giving the Registry more flexibility would enable it to become a leader in digitising land and property services and support wider economic growth.

He declined to say when a decision on its future would be announced, saying only a formal response to the consultation would be published “as soon as possible”.

He also refused to give any promises over the Durham office, saying: “No decision will be taken on the future commercial model for Land Registry until the consultation is completed and all responses have been considered.

“It is impossible to fully understand any impact on staff until then.”