Publication - FOI/EIR release

Schools re-opening full time decision making correspondence: FOI release

Published: 24 Sep 2020

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

Published:
24 Sep 2020
Schools re-opening full time decision making correspondence: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000057060
Date received: 6 Jul 2020
Date responded: 24 Aug 2020
Information requested

Any internal Scottish Government correspondence (including emails, letters, typed or hand-written notes, text messages and briefings) regarding the decision for schools to reopen full-time on 11 August, as announced by the Deputy First Minister on 23 June 2020. I would like this information from 01 June 2020 until 23 June 2020.

Response

I enclose a copy of some of the information you have requested
In addition,: some information you have requested is already publicly available
Scottish Ministers, special advisers and the Permanent Secretary are covered by the terms of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016.

Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website(s) listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
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 exemptions under section 28(1) (relations with the UK), section 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) (free and frank advice and exchange of views) and section 38(1) (b) (personal information) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained in the Annex to this letter.

ANNEX
REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION

An exemption applies, subject to the public interest test
Section 28(1) – relations within the UK

Section 28(1) – relations within the UK
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, the UK Government and the other devolved administrations. The release of these communications about transmission of Covid-19 in Children and young people, will mean that the UK  Government likely to be more reluctant to share such information with the Scottish Government in future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications between the Scottish Government and other UK administrations.

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 good relations 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, such as scientific advice and related policy decisions related to Covid-19 in children and young people. There is no public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications.

Sections 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) – free and frank advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation

Exemptions under section 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) of FOISA applies 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. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to provide free and frank advice to Ministers and other officials before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on the full time resumption of education will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to sensitive issues.

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 allowing a private space within which officials can provide full and frank advice to Ministers and other officials, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government’s policy position on full time return of schools. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, based on the best available advice, so that good policy decisions can be taken. Disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the policy and decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

Section 38(1)(b) – personal data of a third party
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because it is personal data of a third party, ie names/contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 25(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018.

This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

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