Publication - FOI/EIR release

COVID-19 local protection levels: FOI release

Published: 6 Apr 2021

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

Published:
6 Apr 2021
COVID-19 local protection levels: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000116176
Date received: 25 Nov 2020
Date responded: 15 Mar 2021
Information requested

1. Please provide details of the decision makers in regards Covid local protections levels?
2. Please provide minutes of all meetings involving decisions in respect of these levels.
3. In respect of the decision not to move Midlothian to level 2 on Tuesday 24 November 2020, was any consideration given to an outbreak in specific area for example care home or work place?

Response

1. The restrictions are recommended by the National Incident Management Team chaired by Public Health Scotland, with advice from local, regional and national clinical advisers. The recommendations are provided to Cabinet of the Scottish Government which makes the final decision on measures that are implemented.

For further information regarding information held by Public Health Scotland, you may wish to contact them directly using the following details: Freedom of Information (FOI) and Environmental Information Regulation (EIR) requests - Contact us - Public Health Scotland

2. The meetings involving decisions in respect of local protection levels (forming part of the strategic approach to outbreak management which was implemented as part of the Strategic Framework on 2 November 2020) were meetings of the Scottish Cabinet.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide the information under this part of your request, because an exemption under section 30(b)(ii) (the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation) applies to it. The reasons for applying this exemption are set out below.

Paragraph 2.1 of the Scottish Ministerial Code provides that "the privacy of opinions expressed and advice offered within the Government should be maintained" at all times. Cabinet minutes are essential elements which support and assist collective discussion in the private space within which to seek advice and discuss options before reaching a settled public view. Disclosing the content of such discussions may substantially inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views in the future, particularly while discussions relate to ongoing or sensitive issues.

Cabinet minutes are invariably produced on the assumption that they will not be disclosed until a significant amount of time has elapsed.

Section 30(b)(ii) (the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation) recognises the need to allow Ministers some private space for discussion. 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 the process of achieving collective responsibility within a private space within which policy can be explored and refined by Ministers in order that the Government, as a whole, can reach a final decision. This private thinking space also allows for all options to be properly considered, so that good policy 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, which in this case, is an ongoing process due to the evolving nature of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

3. The information you have requested is available from the Scottish Government website. Scottish Government published a statement of reasons which explained why local authority areas were allocated to their respective levels. You can read about this specific to the decision on the 24 November here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): allocation of levels to local authorities - 24 November 2020- gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

The critical indicators which inform the allocation of levels were: 

a) the number of cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days
b) the percentage of tests that are positive over the past seven days
c) forecasts of the number of cases per 100,000 consisting of the weekly number of cases in two
weeks’ time
d) current and projected future use of local hospital beds, compared with capacity
e) current and projected future use of intensive care beds, compared with capacity

However, the data themselves did not solely determine the relevant level, and this was considered alongside other local, regional and national factors. Judgement had to be applied to all the facts and considerations relevant at the time they were made, and in relation to the area directly affected and for
Scotland as a whole. This included the prevalence of infection elsewhere, including neighbouring areas; demographics, the economic profile of the area, including levels of deprivation; trends in the data; and the effectiveness of public health measures.

As outlined in our response to the first question above regarding decision makers, such decisions are reached with expert advice from local, regional and national clinical advisers.

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 website listed above, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

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