Publication - FOI/EIR release

Meetings with Derek Mackay on topic of council tax reform: FOI review

Published: 3 Dec 2018

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

Published:
3 Dec 2018
Meetings with Derek Mackay on topic of council tax reform: FOI review
FOI reference: FOI/18/02467 Review  
Date received: 9 October 2018 
Date responded: 3 December 2018
 
Information requested
 
Details of any meetings or correspondence (emails, typed or handwritten notes, letters, phone calls, minutes of meetings, documents or otherwise) involving Derek Mackay on the topic of local tax/council tax reform from June to September 2018.
 
Response
 

My apologies for the delay in responding.

In undertaking this review I reconsidered the application of the exemptions under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applied in the original response; namely those under section 29(1)(a) (formulation or development of government policy), section 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice) and section 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation).  In so doing I applied the public interest test as provided under  section 2(1)(b) of FOISA.

Having completed the review I have concluded that a different decision should be substituted for that originally reached, by providing additional information about meetings and also by release of some correspondence namely 2 emails.

I enclose copies of those emails, which show where some individuals’ names and contact details have been redacted in accordance with the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002 Section 38(1)(b) exemption concerning personal data where disclosure would contravene data protection principles.  They also show redaction of material that I have concluded should not be released because the FOISA exemptions mentioned above outweigh the public interest in disclosing the information.

The additional information about meetings that I have concluded should be released is as follows:

12 June 2018: Mr Mackay meeting with the First Minister

14 August 2018: Mr Mackay meeting with the First Minister

24 August 2018: Mr Mackay tele-conference with Scottish Government officials

6 September 2018: Mr Mackay meeting with the Scottish Tourism Alliance

18 September 2018: Mr Mackay meeting with the First Minister

 

While none of these meetings was solely about local tax or council tax reform, those were among the subjects discussed and therefore I have concluded that they were within the scope of your request.  However I have also concluded that further information about meetings, both those listed above and others that fall within the scope of your request, should not be disclosed as the FOISA exemptions mentioned above apply to that information and outweigh the public interest in favour of disclosure.

Explanations of these exemptions and how they have been applied in this review are explained below.

There was also an oral PQ in the Scottish Parliament from Patrick Harvie MSP “To ask the Scottish Government what approach it plans to reform local tax and local government finance”. (S5O-02304).  The PQ was answered on 5 September 2018: you can find the Official Report on the Parliament’s website at:

 http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11641&i=105487

 
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 formulation or development of the Scottish Government’s policy on local tax and council tax reform.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’.  Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, i 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 local tax and council tax reform 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)(ii) – free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation

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, and for Ministers and 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 such discussions on local tax and council tax reform would substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, particularly given the sensitive and potentially controversial nature of the issue.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’.  Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, I have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.  I have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption.  I 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 position on local tax and council tax reform until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy 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.

 

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