Publication - FOI/EIR release

Communication between Scottish Government Minister and officials: FOI release

Published: 26 Jul 2021

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

Published:
26 Jul 2021
Communication between Scottish Government Minister and officials: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000104296
Date received: 28 Oct 2020
Date responded: 22 Jul 2021
Information requested

1. Any and all communications between Scottish Government ministers and officials and a) Progress Scotland Limited ; b) Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Limited; c) Invicta Public Affairs Limited: d) Charlotte Street Partners Limited and e) Halogen Communications Limited.

2. Any payments from the Scottish Government for research or other services to a) Progress Scotland LTD; b) Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Limited; c) Invicta Public Affairs Limited: d) Charlotte Street Partners Limited and e) Halogen Communications Limited.

Response

We are able to provide much of the information you requested in regard to communications between Scottish Government Ministers and officials and the companies listed.

However, while our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested. We do not have any communications between Scottish Government ministers or officials and Progress Scotland Limited. Furthermore, we do not hold any records for payments to Progress Scotland Limited, Invicta Public Affairs Limited, Charlotte Street Partners Limited or Halogen Communications Limited. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

We have handled your request on the basis that each request for 'all communications' with a different named company should be treated separately for cost limit purposes. In this instance the costs of providing the information requested for Invicta Public Affairs Limited would exceed the upper cost limit of £600. This is due to the volume of information that was identified in the initial searches of our corporate systems. Under section 12 of FOISA public authorities are not required to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying would exceed the upper cost limit, which is currently set at £600 by Regulations made under section 12.

You may, however, wish to consider reducing the scope of your request in order that the costs can be brought below £600. My suggestion would be either to significantly narrow the timeframe to one that would likely cover the information you are most interested in, or to specify the particular subject matter/s you are interested in. You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner's 'Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs' on his website at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx.

We are able to provide information in response to your requests for all communications with the other three companies you asked about: Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Limited, Charlotte Street Partners Limited and Halogen Communications Limited. I have attached three large compendia of correspondence, covering each of these companies, as well as a spread sheet detailing payments to Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Limited.

There are a large number of attachments to the various items of email correspondence included in the compendia, which I have compiled into a separate schedule, with each document referenced to the email to which it was originally attached. Due to the size of the file, I am unable to attach that schedule with this letter. I am therefore providing you a DropBox link, from which that file can be downloaded within the 7 days from the date of this letter: https://www.dropbox.com/t/iaB9FLotIfEoDyp8.

If you are not able to download the document within the next 7 days or if you encounter any issues with the link, please contact me by email at Michael.Birrell@gov.scot or on If you are not able to download the document within the next 7 days or if you encounter any issues with this link, please contact me by email at Michael.Birrell@gov.scot, and I will send a refreshed one.

A small amount of the information you requested is available online at: MoreThanJustHouses. This is the document attached to the email from Alan Grant (Halogen) on 20 June 2018 14:23. Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you.

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, ie personal names, contact details and biographical information 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. In general, the personal names of people in senior positions and people with a public profile have been provided, but the names of individuals in more junior or less public positions have been removed. 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.

A exemption under section 33(1)(b) (commercial interests) of FOISA also applies to some of the information you have requested. Information is exempt under section 33(1)(b) if its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of any person. Some of the information contained in the Scottish Government’s communications with Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Limited relates to work the company has undertaken under contract for the Scottish Government and to the company’s bids to obtain contracts from the Scottish Government. We have redacted information where we consider that it’s release would be likely to substantially prejudice the company’s commercial interests - for example by giving competitors details of the company’s pricing structures, or distinctive methodological approaches.

As the exemption is conditional we have applied the 'public interest test'. This means we have, in all the circumstances of this case, considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, at this time the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. While we recognise that there is a general public interest in understanding the all the detail of the services provided by the company, and in how public money is being spent, there is a greater public interest in protecting the integrity of the tendering process and the commercial interests of tenderers, so that they are not deterred from bidding for similar contracts in the future.

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