- 12 Feb 2020
Date received: 13 Jan 2020
Date responded: 7 Feb 2020
You asked for:
Any correspondence, including but not limited to emails, phone records, letters and text messages between the Scottish and UK Governments over the Scottish budget setting process for the financial year 2020/21.
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 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation), 28(1) (Relations within the UK) and 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA applies to that information.
Some of the information you have requested, specifically letters to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, are available on the Scottish Government website (at https://www.gov.scot/news/flexibility-needed-onbudget/ and https://www.gov.scot/news/budget-clarity-needed/).
Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the websites listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested.
Correspondence between SG & HMT officials on Scottish Budget date
Correspondence between SG & HMT officials on OBR forecasts from Welsh Budget
7 January 2020
Correspondence between SG & HMT officials on UK Budget date
REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION
Section 30(b)(ii) – free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation
Exemptions under 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation) apply to some the information requested. These exemptions apply 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 have free and frank exchange of views between counterparts in the UK Government 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 recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, release of this type of information would be likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues, including with the UK Government, which in turn could undermine the quality of the decision making process, leading to a reduction in the comprehensiveness and frankness of such advice and views in the future. This would not be in the public interest.
Section 28(1) – relations within the UK [where disclosure would otherwise prejudice relations between the SG and another UK administration]
An exemption under section 28(1) of FOISA (relations within the UK) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. It is essential for the effective administration of the UK as a whole that there should be regular, sometimes private, communications between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. Disclosure of this information, which was not written with the expectation that it would be shared, will mean that the UK Government is likely to be more reluctant to communicate as frequently and openly with the Scottish Government in future, which we do not believe would be in the public interest.
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 maintaining close working relationships between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and in protecting the free exchange of information between the administrations to ensure that we keep each other fully and regularly informed about matters of mutual interest. We do not believe there is public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications.
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.
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