Publication - FOI/EIR release

Rural GPs and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands: FOI appeal

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

Published:
17 Dec 2019
Rural GPs and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands: FOI appeal
FOI reference: FOI/19/01413
Date received: 11 Oct 2019
Date responded: 16 Dec 2019
Information requested

Copies of all electronic correspondence involving ministers and/or officials, and other stakeholders, from the last six months in which there is discussion about the impact of the GP contract on rural GPs and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands.

Response

Following your appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, we have reviewed our response to your request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) for copies of all electronic correspondence involving ministers and/or officials, and other stakeholders, from the last six months in which there is discussion about the impact of the GP contract on rural GPs and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands.

We have reconsidered all of the information that was withheld under Section 29(1)(a) of FOISA – (formulation or development of government policy) and we have also revisited the public interest test. I have concluded that most of the information previously withheld can now be released.

I have therefore attached three documents to the email with this letter and included extracts from a further 7 documents in the Annex B to this letter.

In addition, some of the information you have requested is available from:

Information on the PE01698: Medical care in rural areas, including our responses to the Committee is available at: https://www.parliament.scot/S5_PublicPetitionsCommittee/Submissions%202019/PE1698_Q.pdf

I am satisfied that an exemption under section 29(1)(a) continues to apply to a very small amount of information for the reasons set out in our response to your initial request and review.

Finally, I have determined that a very small amount of information previously withheld under section 29(1)(a) remains exempt from disclosure because exemptions under section 30(b)(i) and (ii), section 30(c) and Section 38(1)(b) of FOISA apply to that information. The reason these exemptions apply are explained in the Annex A to this letter.

Annex A - Reasons for not providing information
An exemption under sections 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) and under section 30 b(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) applies 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. These exemptions recognise 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 the development of the policy on the GP contract will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future. 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 full and frank advice to Ministers, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position on the GP Contract. 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 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to a small amount of the information requested. Disclosing this information would substantially prejudice our ability to manage risks effectively by giving away our mitigation/contingency plans in cases where divulging them would make those plans less effective. This would constitute substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs in terms of the exemption.

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. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting the process of managing risks and ensuring that the Scottish Government is able conduct this aspect of its business effectively.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information being released because it is personal data of a third party, i.e. names and contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. 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.

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FOI/19/01413 - Annex B

19 page PDF
667.2 kB

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG