- 14 Aug 2017
FOI reference: FOI/17/01582
Date received: 11 July 2017
Date responded: 7 August 2017
All correspondence between the Scottish Government and Audit Scotland relating to the Audit Scotland report entitled Managing New Financial Powers: an update between the firsts draft and the final document released in March 2017.
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 s.29(1)(a) (policy formulation) and s30.(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained in the Annex to this letter.
Section 29(1)(a) – formulation or development of government policy.
An exemption under section 29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of government policy) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to the formulation of the Scottish Government's policy on borrowing.
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 the Scottish Government's borrowing strategy and framework 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.
An exemption under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) 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 other officials before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on borrowing principles will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions are still ongoing and decisions have not been taken, and these discussions relate to a sensitive issue such as how the Scottish Government would borrow.
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 other officials, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position on borrowing, until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy that is sound and likely to be effective. 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. 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 policy making process, which would not be in the public interest.
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