- 30 Aug 2017
FOI reference: FOI/17/01181 and FOI/17/01182
Date received: 12 July 2017
Date responded: 13 July 2017
FOI/17/01181: You asked for all correspondence held by the "EU Projects And Rural Development" team (part of the Agriculture and Rural Development Division) pertaining to the delivery of the upcoming 2017 LFASS payments, from 1 September 2016 to 22 May 2017.
FOI/17/01182: You asked for all correspondence held by the "RPID : Scheme and Inspection Management - RP RPID - Scheme Management" team pertaining to the delivery of the upcoming 2017 Common Agricultural Policy payments, from 1 September 2016 to 22 May 2017.
You later clarified that in both cases you were looking for correspondence dealing with dates/deadlines for delivery of payments, including for example emails that discuss the establishment of internal or official deadlines, the feasibility of these deadlines, when final payments are expected to be made, etc. We have therefore not narrowed the scope to material held by the teams you quote. You also clarified that by "2017…payments" you meant payments relating to the 2016 Scheme year, which are due to be made in 2017.
Further to your email of 12 July, I have now completed my review of our failure to respond to your request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) as detailed below.
In accordance with section 21(4) of FOISA, I have also reached a decision on your request.
I am sorry that we were not able to respond within the timescale laid down. As you will see, even after receiving clarification from you, your request involved the collation of a large quantity of material: you will appreciate that the teams in question have been and remain highly focussed on the delivery of CAP payments in accordance with a complex set of regulations, and this naturally necessitates regular communication as plans develop and are tested.
I can now provide our response to your original request.
I enclose a copy of most of the information you requested.
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 sections 30(b)(i) and (ii) and 30(c) – Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs. The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained below.
Reasons for not providing information
Exemptions apply, subject to the public interest test.
An exemption under section 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation and the free and frank provision of advice. This exemption recognises the need for Ministers and officials to have a private space within which to discuss and explore options before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view.
Disclosing the content of free and frank discussions on options for delivery of CAP payments will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, particularly because discussions are still ongoing and not all decisions have been taken, and these discussions relate to sensitive issues of handling and exploration of options. 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 Ministers and officials a private space within which to explore and refine the Government's approach to achieving payments for 2016, 2017 and future years. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good operational decisions can be taken. Premature 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 decision-making process, which would not be in the public interest.
An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. Disclosing this information would substantially prejudice our ability to conduct our ordinary business because certain contact details are maintained in confidence to ensure that they are not used inappropriately. Such inappropriate use would constitute substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs in terms of the exemption.
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. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting certain contacts methods and ensuring that the Scottish Government is able conduct this aspect ofits business effectively.
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House