Publication - FOI/EIR release

Social Security Scotland assisting DWP with the Universal Credit process: FOI Review

Published: 13 Jul 2020

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

Published:
13 Jul 2020
Social Security Scotland assisting DWP with the Universal Credit process: FOI Review
FOI reference: FOI/202000046646
Date received: 3 Jun 2020
Date responded: 26 Jun 2020
Information requested

I would like to request a review of the response provided.

You did not provide an email address at which David Wallace could be contacted, so please pass this on.

Specifically on the public interest test applied for the Section 30(b)(ii) exemption – I believe the test has been applied wrongly in this case.
The decision on whether to release staff for the very specific purpose of assisting with a surge in claims related to COVID-19 has clearly been taken at this point – so it would not prejudice free and frank discussion either internally within the Scottish Government or externally with the DWP to release the information requested.
Furthermore, the exemption appears to have been applied in a blanket fashion, wiping out multiple items of communication rather than specific parts of them. I might expect emails or other communication to be released with certain sentences redacted, but not for them not to be provided at all.

Separately, there is an overwhelming public interest in the Scottish Government releasing this information, given that welfare and where welfare powers lie in the devolution settlement has been such a contentious policy issue for many years, and one which the Scottish Government have themselves raised on numerous occasions. And there is a clear case that information related to the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is even more in the public interest to reveal, given the extraordinary power the state exercises at this time and Nicola Sturgeon’s promise to ‘be as open and transparent with the public as possible’ during the outbreak.

Response

I have now completed my review of our response to your request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA).

I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed with modification. I have concluded that more information should be released to you but that some information continues to be exempt. In order to assist you to understand the conclusion reached, I have used a colour coding within the documents as follows:

  • Red text – Section 38(1)(b) – Personal Information.
  • Yellow text – Section 30(b)(ii) – Free and frank exchange of views.
  • Blue text – Section 30 (c) – Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs.
  • Green text – not within scope.

I have identified seven e-mail exchanges which I consider fall within the scope of your request. These are attached and have been subject to some redaction. In your review request you did not express dissatisfaction at the application of section 38(1)(b) to personal information. An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. The information withheld under Section 30 (c) is limited and concerns remuneration. It is essential for Social Security Scotland to be able to communicate, in confidence with DWP on some matters such as remuneration around work.

Disclosing the content of these communications, particularly without the consent of the stakeholder, is likely to undermine their trust in Social Security Scotland and will substantially inhibit communications on this type of issue in the future. DWP will be reluctant to participate in such discussions if they believe that their views are likely to be made public, particularly while these matters are still ongoing and may be subject to further decisions. This would significantly harm Social Security Scotland's ability to carry out many aspects of its work, and could adversely affect its ability to work constructively with DWP in delivering the very significant task of a devolved benefits system for Scotland.

Taking into account all of the circumstances of the case, we have considered whether 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 some public interest in release because it would further demonstrate transparency, openness and understanding of the request from the Department for Work and Pensions. However this is outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that they key arrangements surrounding the request and terms and conditions of staff are protected.

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 Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG