Publication - FOI/EIR release

Correspondence with the Scottish Fiscal Commission: FOI release

Published: 1 May 2018

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

Published:
1 May 2018
Correspondence with the Scottish Fiscal Commission: FOI release

FOI reference: FOI/18/00510
Date received: 9 February 2018
Date responded: 15 March 2018

Information requested

Any correspondence in 2017 or 2018 between Scottish Government Ministers, special advisers or senior civil servants and anyone at the Scottish Fiscal Commission regarding GDP growth projections, productivity projections or income tax revenue.

Response

I enclose a copy of some 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 29(1)(a) and 30(b) and (c) (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained below.

Reasons for not providing information

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 development of the Scottish Government's tax policy.

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 fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on tax policy and related forecasts 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) (1) and (ii) – free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.

Exemptions under section 30(b) (i) and (ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) applies to some of the information requested. These exemption apply because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to discuss issues and options with external stakeholders before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of these discussions with the Scottish Fiscal Commission on the development of forecasts will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, because these stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their advice and views fully and frankly if they believe that these are likely to be made public given these discussions relate to a sensitive or controversial issue such as developing forecasts.

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 forecasting process. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence, such as that provided by the Scottish Fiscal Commisison. 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. There is also an important public interest in avoiding the loss of stakeholder confidence in cases where they thought they were providing information in confidence, which would be inevitable if an individual's contribution was released against their wishes.

Section 30(c) – substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs

An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. It is essential for officials to be able to communicate, often in confidence, with the Scottish Fiscal Commission on a range of issues, including the development of forecasts. Disclosing the content of these communications and information about these discussions, 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 and support fully and frankly if they believe that their views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions relate to a sensitive such as the development of forecasts and models. 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 and decisions.

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 officials a private space within which to communicate with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's and Scottish Fiscal Commission's position on forecasting models, until a decision that is sound and likely to be effective is made. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that models can be based on fully informed advice and evidence. 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 forecasting process, which would not be in the public interest.

About FOI

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

Annex.pdf

14 page PDF
225.5 kB

Annex.pdf

26 page PDF
327.2 kB

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