Multiple questions on Chief Scientist Office operations: FOI review

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

FOI reference: FOI/18/02166/Review  
Date received: 11 September 2018  
Date responded: 9 October 2018
Information requested
1. “Please could you send me a pro forma example of the new reporting format for this year (although there is no need if you send this in 2a) and the proposed format for next year.

2. “Please could you tell me what you spend by illness if you have started reporting this since I last asked this question.

3. “Do you have plans to report this (A may provide an answer to this)?

4. “How many peer reviews to you aim to get before you fund a project. If this varies depending on certain characteristics of the grant, please state this. Is this in line with MRC or NIHR guidelines or are they your own?

5. “You sent me peer review information on the £4 million Precision Medicine Investments (Project Panc, MS and to support the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre, SMS-IC).

i. What you sent me included only 1 peer review response for the cancer project. Please will you confirm that there were no peer reviews completed for the MS project or the SMS-IC investment. If there were more please send them to me.
6. Part of this proposal was that SMS-IC would be self-funding at the end of the grant in March 2017, please could you send me any post project review papers you have on the success of otherwise of this CSO investment.

7. “Previously you have sent me review documentation/links for your units like HERU, HSRU, NMAHPRU

i. Please could you send to me the peer reviews of their latest quinquennial reviews, and;

ii. Their forward looking proposals for new funding made at the time, and;

iii. The peer reviews of these forward looking proposals.

8. “Please could you send me the peer reviews for these projects. I use the File Reference number you have previously provided me with when you sent me the files Data 1 – Data 6:

i. TCS/16/25

ii. HIPS/16/59

iii. HIPS/16/49

iv. CAF/16/06

v. CZH/4/1084.
Your Further Correspondence (09 September 2018).

1. “…Where you have sent me peer reviews with redacted names and scores, please provide the scores. I believe that it is in the public interest to know the peer review score of projects the CSO funds and the name of the reviewer will still remain anonymous.”
Paul Gray, the Director General for Health and Social Care and the Chief Executive of NHS Scotland has asked me to conduct this review as I was not involved in the handling of your original request. I have looked at the request and the response afresh. I have also considered your further correspondence of 09 September 2018 relating to this FOISA request.

The purpose of the review was to establish whether the original response should be confirmed, with or without modifications, or whether a different decision should be substituted.
I have now completed my review in respect this FOISA request. I have concluded that the original decision in respect of this request should be confirmed, subject to modification. In the request response you received on 04 September 2018, in relation to request number 7, you should have been advised of the reason for redacting the peer review scores in the documents that were released to you.

Accordingly, an exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (the free and frank exchange of views) applies to a small amount of the information requested, i.e. the peer review scores in the documents that were released to you. 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 officials to have a private space within which to discuss the options with external stakeholders engaged to provide advice to the Scottish Government and recommendations that inform our subsequent funding decisions. Disclosing peer review scores, which are not otherwise disclosed outwith the funding committee’s in camera deliberations, would substantially inhibit this deliberation process in the future. The stakeholders involved would be reluctant to provide impartial and robust peer review sores where they feel those scores are likely to be made public, particularly as these scores are provided on the understanding that they are not currently publicly released, even to the authors of subsequently funded proposals.

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 engaged to provide advice and recommendations on subsequent funding decisions taken by the Chief Scientist’s Office. The private space is essential to allow robust deliberation in advance of determining funding decisions, on the basis of fully informed advice and evidence, such as professionally informed peer review scores. There is also an important public interest in avoiding the loss of stakeholder confidence in cases where reviewers thought they were providing scores in confidence, which would be inevitable in an individual’s scores were released against their wishes.
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