Publication - FOI/EIR release

Minimum provision of banking services: FOI release

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

Published:
16 May 2018
Minimum provision of banking services: FOI release

FOI reference: FOI/18/01152
Date received: 17 April 2018
Date responded: 16 May 2018

Information requested

All correspondence between (a) the Scottish and UK governments and (b) the Scottish Government and banks operating in Scotland, relating to the Scottish Government's call for a 'minimum provision of banking services' articulated by Paul Wheelhouse in December 2017. This should include emails, physical letters, notes of telephone conversations, notes or minutes taken of meetings and conversations, agendas, pre-meeting briefings, any action points, and lists of all people in attendance. The timeframe this should cover will be 01/01/2017 until the present day.

Response

I enclose a copy of some of the information requested.

Some of the information you have requested is available from the Scottish Government website https://news.gov.scot/news/rbs-branch-closures. 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 requested because an exemptions under sections s.28(1) (relations within the UK), s.29(1)(a)(policy formulation), s.30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) and s.38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.

Reasons for not providing information

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information requested because it is personal data of a 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.

Exemptions apply, subject to the public interest test

Exemptions under sections:

• S.28(1) (relations within the UK), • S.29(1)(a) (policy formulation), • S.30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views); and • S.38(1)(b) (personal information)

of FOISA apply to some of the information requested.

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 the Scottish Government's call for a 'minimum provision of banking services' will mean that the UK Government is 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 the Scottish Government's call for a 'minimum provision of banking services'. There is no public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications.

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 policy on the financial services sector.

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 full understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be effected by their assessment of whether the discussions on the financial services sector 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.

An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) 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. 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 the financial services sector will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to a sensitive or controversial issue.

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 policy position on the financial services sector, until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good 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 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information requested 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 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.

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Contact

Please quote the FOI reference

Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
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Edinburgh
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