Publication - FOI/EIR release

Communication with Hometown Foundation: FOI release

Published: 11 Jan 2018
Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
Published:
11 Jan 2018
Communication with Hometown Foundation: FOI release

FOI reference: FOI/18/02798
Date received: 20 November 2017
Date responded: 9 January 2018

Information requested

1. Communication between ScotGov and the Hometown Foundation (from 23/12/16 to present)

2. Communication between ScotGov and the Schools' Education Trust

3. Communication between ScotGov and either of Bill Nicol or Robert Durward (that are not covered by parts 1 and 2 of this request) (January 2014 – Present)

4. Confirmation of any meetings (past or planned for the future) between the Scottish Government and any of the above named parties, with all associated documents (NB I am already aware of two meetings between the Scottish Government and the Hometown Foundation due to a previous FOI request) (January 2014 – Present)

5. Communications or other govt docs related to proposals for new private schools in Scotland (January 2016 – Present)

Response

I enclose a copy of most of the information you requested in the format you asked for which I have attached in PDF form to this email.

In relation to your fourth point I can confirm that the following meetings have taken place between the Scottish Government and the above named parties within your clarified timeframe of January 2014 - Present:

21 November 2016 – Meeting between Colin McAllister (Special Advisor) and Bill Nicol.

25 October 2016 – Meeting between John Swinney MSP and Bill Nicol.

24 November 2015 – Meeting between Alasdair Allan MSP and Bill Nicol.

17 September 2015 – Meeting between Alex Neil MSP and Bill Nicol.

1 July 2015 – Meeting between Clare Hicks (Deputy Directory, Learning Directorate), Donna Bell (Deputy Director, Learning Directorate) and Bill Nicol.

7 October 2014 – Meeting between Meeting between Chief Planner and Hometown Foundation representatives.

15 August 2014 – Meeting between the Chief Planner and Hometown Foundation representatives.

17 June 2014 – Meeting between Aileen Campbell MSP and Bill Nicol.

The requested papers relating to these meetings have been enclosed.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, under section 14(2) of FOISA a public authority is not required to comply with a request for information if it is identical or substantially similar to a request which it has already complied with, Consequentially, I note that we have not enclosed any materials that have been issued to you as part of your previous Freedom of Information requests. However, these can be provided to you again upon request. In addition, exemptions have been made under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs), section 38(1) of FOISA (personal information), section 33(1)(b) of FOISA (commercial interests), section 36(1) of FOISA (confidentiality in legal proceedings) and section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice). The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained below.

Reasons for not providing information

The following exemptions apply:

1. An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the redacted information because it is the personal data of third party, i.e. names/contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998.

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.

2.An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some the information requested. It is essential for Ministers and officials to be able to communicate often in confidence, with external stakeholders on a range of issues, including the aggregates levy and independent schools. Disclosing the content of these communications, particularly without the consent of the stakeholder, is likely to undermine their trust in the Scottish Government and will substantially inhibit communications on this type of issue in the future. These stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that their views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions are still ongoing and decisions have not been taken, and these discussions relate to a sensitive issue such as the aggregates levy. This would significantly harm the Government's ability to carry out many aspects of its work, and could adversely affect its ability to gather all of the evidence it needs to make fully informed policies around new devolved responsibilities.

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 communicate with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's policy position until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy that is sound and likely to be effective. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good policy decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence, such as that provided by the British Aggregates Association and Cloburn Quarry Ltd. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between the Scottish Government and these stakeholders, which in turn will undermine the quality of the policy making process, which would not be in the public interest.

3. An exemption under section 33(1)(b) of FOISA (commercial interests) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure of this particular information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of Cloburn Quarry Ltd as the correspondence in question provides details of business performance, strategy and operating markets. In addition, this exemption has also been applied to a paragraph discussing considerations in relation to the sale and proposals for commercial use of land by a third party.

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.

4. An exemption under section 36(1) of FOISA (confidentiality in legal proceedings) applies to some of the information requested because it refers to legal advice and disclosure would breach legal professional privilege.

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 some public interest in release as part of open and transparent government, and to inform public debate. However, this is outweighed by the strong public interest in maintaining the right to confidentiality of communications between legal advisers and clients, to ensure that Ministers and officials are able to receive legal advice in confidence, like any other public or private organisation.

5. An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies to some of the information requested concerning advice from officials on state funded autonomous schools. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for Ministers to have a private space within which to discuss issues and options before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view.

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 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 communicate as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding 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 Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG