Publication - FOI/EIR release

Greater borrowing power briefings: FOI release

Published: 19 Aug 2020

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Published:
19 Aug 2020
Greater borrowing power briefings: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000054054
Date received: 30 Jun 2020
Date responded: 27 Jul 2020
Information requested

Any internal briefings, memo, notes or analysis produced for Kate Forbes, Fiona Hyslop or Nicola Sturgeon since 1 March on the impact greater borrowing powers would have on Scotland’s economy. 

How many meetings have been held where Kate Forbes, Fiona Hyslop or Nicola Sturgeon have taken part and Scotland’s borrowing powers have been on the agenda in any form since 1 March 2020. 

Please provide details of these meetings

Response

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because the exemptions under sections 28(1) (Relations within the UK), 29(1)(a) (the formulation or development of government policy) and 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice) of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why these exemptions applies are explained in the Annex A to this letter.
In Annex B, I enclose a copy of some of the information you have requested in response to your request in relation to:
Any internal briefings, memo, notes or analysis produced for Kate Forbes, Fiona Hyslop or Nicola Sturgeon since 1 March on the impact greater borrowing powers would have on Scotland’s economy. 

In the table below, I have provided information in response to your request for information on: 
How many meetings have been held where Kate Forbes, Fiona Hyslop or Nicola Sturgeon have taken part and Scotland’s borrowing powers have been on the agenda in any form since 1 March 2020. Please provide details of these meetings

Meeting Name

Date

Finance Ministers Quadrilaterals

30 April 2020, 19 May 2020 and 26 June 2020.

Portfolio call (between Kate Forbes and Scottish Government Officials)

01 June 2020 and 19 June 2020.

COVID Economy Ministers Group (CEMG)

15 May 2020, 22 May 2020, 5 June 2020, 12 June 2020,

19 June 2020 and 26 June 2020

Scottish Cabinet

24 March 2020, 5 May 2020 and 2 June 2020.

ANNEX A
REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION

Exemptions apply

Section 28(1) – relations within the UK [where disclosure would otherwise prejudice relations between the SG and another UK administration]
An exemption under section 28(1) of FOISA (relations within the UK) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to,
prejudice substantially relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. It is essential for the effective administration of the UK as a whole that there should be regular, and often private, communications between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. Disclosure of this information will mean that the UK Government is likely to be more reluctant to communicate as frequently and openly with the Scottish Government in future.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in maintaining close working relationships between the Scottish Government and the UK  Government, and in protecting the free exchange of information between the administrations to ensure that we keep each other fully and regularly informed about matters of mutual interest. There is no public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications.

Section 29(1)(a) – the formulation or development of government policy
Exemptions under sections 29(1)(a) of FOISA (the formulation or development of government policy) apply to some of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because disclosure may impact the effectiveness of future policy development and implementation work. 

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on greater borrowing powers will be disclosed in the near future, when it may undermine or constrain the Government’s view on that policy while it is still under discussion and development.

Section 30(b)(i) – free and frank provision of advice
Exemptions under 30(b)(i) of FOISA (the free and frank provision of advice) apply to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice to Ministers. The exemption recognises the need for officials to have the ability to advise Ministers freely and frankly. Disclosing the content of the free and frank provision of advice on greater borrowing powers could substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to a sensitive issue.

These exemptions are subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemptions. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemptions. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in allowing a private space within which officials can provide free and frank advice and views to Ministers. It is clearly in the public interest that Ministers can properly provide sound information to Parliament (to which they are accountable), and robustly defend the Government’s policies and decisions. They need full and candid advice from officials to enable them to do so. Disclosure of this type of information could lead to a reduction in the comprehensiveness and frankness of such advice and views in the future, which would not be in the public interest.

About FOI

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Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG