Publication - FOI/EIR release

Timing of Scotland’s budget process correspondence with Cabinet Secretary for Finance: FOI release

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

Published:
2 Dec 2019
Timing of Scotland’s budget process correspondence with Cabinet Secretary for Finance: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/201900005878
Date received: 1 Nov 2019
Date responded: 28 Nov 2019
Information requested

You asked for:

  1. Any correspondence between Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid between July 2019 and 1 November 2019.
  2. Any correspondence between Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay, and civil servants relating to the timing of Scotland’s budget process, between September 2019 and 1 November 2019.
  3. Any internal briefings and or memos to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance relating to timing of Scotland’s budget process from September 2019 and 1 November 2019.
Response

I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested.

1. Any correspondence between Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid between July 2019 and 1 November 2019.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have correspondence within the scope you have requested. We are interpreting your request as direct correspondence between the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

2. Any correspondence between Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay, and civil servants relating to the timing of Scotland’s budget process, between September 2019 and 1 November 2019.

3. Any internal briefings and or memos to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance relating to timing of Scotland’s budget process from September 2019 and 1 November 2019.

Some of the information you have requested, specifically letters to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee and the Scottish Fiscal Commission, is available from the websites of the Committee (at https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/113234.aspx) and the Commission (at http://www.fiscalcommission.scot/about-us/correspondence/letter-fromcabinet-secretary-for-finance-economy-and-fair-work-to-dame-susan-rice-scottish-budget-14-november-2019/).

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because exemptions under sections 29(1)(a) (formulation/development of government policy), 29(1)(b) (Ministerial communications), 30(b)(i) (substantial inhibition of free and frank provision of advice) and 38(1)(b) (personal data of a third party) of FOISA apply to that information, and I have applied redactions to take those exemptions into account. The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained below.

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 development of the Scottish Government’s policy on public spending in 2020-21.

An exemption under section 29(1)(b) of FOISA (Ministerial communications) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to communications between Scottish Ministers.

An exemption under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies 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 the Scottish Budget 2020-21 will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to a sensitive issue.

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 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 timing of the Scottish Budget 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.

There is also a greater public interest in allowing Ministers a private space within which issues can be explored and refined, until the Government as a whole can reach a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space also allows for 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, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process.

There is also 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 timing of its Budget, 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 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information requested 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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Contact

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Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

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