Publication - FOI/EIR release

20th National Economic Forum: FOI release

Published: 26 Jun 2018

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

Published:
26 Jun 2018
20th National Economic Forum: FOI release

FOI reference: FOI/18/01414
Date received: 18 May 2018
Date responded: 15 June 2018

Information requested

'Under the Freedom of Information Act (2002), in relation to a speech by Nicola Sturgeon at the National Economic Forum in Dumfries, I wish to acquire the following information:

  • A briefing for the event provided by Scottish Government officials

  • Email correspondence between her officials and Fergus Ewing and his officials regarding the event in Dumfries (from dates: 1/1/18-16/5/18)

  • Email correspondence between her officials and Fergus Ewing and his officials regarding Scottish farming and Brexit (from dates: 1/1/18-16/5/18)

  • Details of proposals for a post-Brexit farm support plan by the Scottish Government

  • Details of a timeline of when proposals or announcements on post-Brexit farm support plans will be published.'

Response

The most recent National Economic Forum took place on 16 May 2018 at Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries. This is an event at which senior figures from across business, the third sector, trade unions, government and the wider public sector meet to debate how to grow Scotland's economy. The focus of the Forum on 16 May was 'Driving forward the Rural Economy'. A copy of the speech delivered by the First Minister at this Forum can be viewed here: https://news.gov.scot/speeches-and-briefings/first-ministers-speech-at-the-national-economic-forum

Separate responses to each of your five requests are provided below. Please be aware that as some of the information you have requested is 'environmental information' for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are also dealing with your request under those Regulations.

1. Briefing to the First Minister provided by Scottish Government officials is attached as a separate Annex 1.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance exemptions under section s.25(1) of FOISA (information otherwise accessible), section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice), section s.30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) and section 38(1)(b) (personal information) apply to some of information requested. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.

2. Copies of email correspondence between the First Minister's officials and the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, and his officials, are included at Annex B to this letter.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance exemptions under section 38(1)(b) (personal information) apply to some of information requested.

3. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance exemptions under section s.29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of Scottish Government policy), section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) and section s.30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) apply to all of the information requested. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.

4. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance exemptions under section s.29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of Scottish Government policy), section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) and section s.30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) apply to all of the information requested. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.

5. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance exemptions under section s.29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of Scottish Government policy), section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) and section s.30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) apply to all of the information requested. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.

Reasons for not providing information

An exemption under section s.25(1) of FOISA (information otherwise accessible) applies to some of the information requested. On this occasion, some of the briefing requested can be found via the following links:

https://beta.gov.scot/publications/national-economic-forum-may-2018/

http://www.oecd.org/rural/rural-development-conference/10-Key-Drivers-Rural-Change.pdf

http://www.oecd.org/cfe/regional-policy/Edinburgh-Policy-Statement-On-Enhancing-Rural-Innovation.pdf

https://www.sruc.ac.uk/downloads/file/3702/post_brexit_implications_for_agriculture_and_associated_land_use_in_the_highlands_and_islands

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 listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

An exemption under section s.29(1)(a) of FOISA (Formulation or development of Scottish Government policy) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to the formulation and development of the Scottish Government's policy on post-Brexit Scottish farming.

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 post-Brexit farming 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.

Exemptions under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) and section s.30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) apply 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 Ministers before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on some of the wide variety of briefing provided to the First Minister, or specifically on the Scottish Government plans for post-Brexit farm support, will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to sensitive and on-going issues.

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 Ministers, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's policy positions, including that on post-Brexit farm support, 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, based on the best available advice, 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 s.38(1)(b) of FOISA (Personal data relating to third party) applies to some of the information requested.

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

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