- 5 Apr 2019
Date received: 13 Mar 2019
Date responded: 3 Apr 2019
Any correspondence received or sent by the First Minister regarding the SNP’s ‘Sustainable Growth Commission’ since May 2018.
Some of the information you have requested is already available as part of responses to previous requests under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). They have been published on the Scottish Government’s website and can be accessed at:
Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you.
I have also reviewed the information that was withheld in the reply to FoI/18/02282 at the time it was published. I can confirm that the exemptions under section 29(1)(a) (formulation or development of government policy), Section 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) free and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation (in relation to Ministerial briefings and lines to take and in relation to meetings with external stakeholders) of FOISA continue to apply. The reasons why these exemptions continue to apply are explained in the Annex of this letter.
Additionally, we have identified one other piece of correspondence to the First Minister regarding the Sustainable Growth Commission. A copy is enclosed with this letter. An exemption under section 38(1)(b) (Personal Information) applies to some of this information. The reasons why this exemption applies is explained in the Annex of this letter.
REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION
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 of the Scottish Government’s policy on the Programme for Government.
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 the Programme for Government 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 sections 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank advice and exchange of views) apply to some of the information requested. These exemptions apply because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. The exemptions recognise the need for Ministers to have a private space within which to seek advice and views from officials before reaching the settled public position which will be given in whatever final lines to take are used. Disclosing the content of free and frank briefing material on the Sustainable Growth Commission will substantially inhibit such briefing in the future, particularly because discussions on the issue are still ongoing and final decisions have not been taken.
These exemptions are 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 exemptions. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemptions. 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 free and frank advice and views to Ministers in lines to take. It is clearly in the public interest that Ministers can properly answer Parliamentary questions, provide sound information to Parliament (to which they are accountable), and robustly defend the Government’s policies and decisions. They need full and candid advice from officials to enable them to do so. Premature disclosure of this type of information could lead to a reduction in the comprehensiveness and frankness of such advice and views in the future, which would not be in the public interest.
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some 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.
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.
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrews House