Publication - FOI/EIR release

Communications relating to Newlands Junior College £345,000 funding: FOI review

Published: 4 Jul 2018
Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
Published:
4 Jul 2018
Communications relating to Newlands Junior College £345,000 funding: FOI review

FOI reference: FOI/18/01163
Date received: 18 June 2018
Date responded: 2 July 2018

Information requested

  • All communications, including the content of attachments in emails, in relation to the £345,000 funding for Newlands Junior College

  • The dates and locations of all meetings with NJC/their representatives in relation to this funding, as well as the minutes of those meetings.

Response

I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed, with modifications. In undertaking this review I have examined the information within scope of this request, and I have considered the exemptions that were applied together with the public interest test. This has resulted in my opinion that:

  • there were occasions when an exemption under FOISA was applied when it was not necessary, or when too much information was redacted. This additional information has now been included with this response.

  • there were occasions when an additional or alternative exemption under FOISA was applicable. This has resulted in the information still being redacted, but under an alternative (or additional) exemption under FOISA.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, as before, some information has been redacted because exemptions under 38(1)(b) (personal information), 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice), 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views), and 30(c) (otherwise prejudice effective conduct of public affairs) of FOISA apply to that information.

I have also concluded that some information should be redacted under 33(1)(b) (substantial prejudice to commercial interests) of FOISA. The reasons why these exemptions apply are below.

Reasons for not providing information

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.

An exemption under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies to some of the information requested concerning advice from officials on Newlands Junior College. 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 Ministers and officials 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 have found that, on balance and when appropriate, 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 as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position. We have found that, on balance and when appropriate, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption.

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 issues and options, including with external stakeholders, before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of these discussions regarding potential funding for Newlands Junior College will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future.

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 and when appropriate, 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 position, until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective.

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. 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 decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (the effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. It is essential for Ministers and officials to be able to communicate and meet, often in confidence, with external stakeholders on a range of issues. Disclosing the content of these communications 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. 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 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 and when appropriate, 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 and meet with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position on funding proposals such as that for Newlands Junior College until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. 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 Newlands Junior College.

An exemption under section 33(1)(b) of FOISA (substantial prejudice to commercial interests) applies to some of the information requested concerning advice from officials on Newlands Junior College. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of a public authority, company and partnership. This exemption recognises the need for Ministers and officials to have a private space within which to discuss issues which are of commercial sensitivity.

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 and when appropriate, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption when deemed appropriate.

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 matters of commercial sensitivity as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position. We have found that, on balance and when appropriate, the public interest lies in favour of upholding 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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