Publication - FOI/EIR release

Correspondence relating to the launch of Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB): FOI release

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

Published:
11 Feb 2021
Correspondence relating to the launch of Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB): FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000129473
Date received: 23 Dec 2020
Date responded: 4 Feb 2021
Information requested

1. Any correspondence (emails, letters, text messages, WhatsApp messages, phone calls or otherwise) between Ministers (including the First Minister), Special Advisors and civil servants in the Scottish Government Press Office concerning the official launch of the Scottish National Investment Bank on 23 November 2020.

2. Any briefings (notes, memos, or otherwise) produced by civil servants for Ministers (including the First Minister) and/or Special Advisors concerning the official launch of the Scottish National Investment Bank on 23 November 2020.

Response

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

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have asked for because, as at the date of your request, it had been transferred to the Scottish National Investment Bank (‘the Bank’), which is a separate Scottish public authority for the purposes of FOISA. Details on how to contact the Bank is available via its website at https://www.thebank.scot/freedom-of-information/.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

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 section 27(1) (information intended for future publication), sections 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) (free and frank advice and exchange of views), section 30(c) (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs), section 33(1)(b) (commercial interests), section 38(1)(b) (personal information) and section 39(1) (endanger the physical or mental health or safety of an individual) of FOISA apply to that information.

The reasons why these exemptions apply are set out below.
An exemption under section 27(1) of FOISA applies to some of the information requested because we intend to publish that information in February (as part of the Spring Budget Revision). This is within 12 weeks of the date of your request. We consider that it is reasonable to withhold the information until that date, rather than release this routinely published information before the planned publication date.

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 some public interest in release but this will be met by our planned publication. In the meantime, there is a greater public interest in taking the time necessary to ensure the information has been properly considered before it is published as planned. Also, we see no public interest in disrupting our programme of work to release the information ahead of the intended publication date.

Exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank advice and exchange of views) apply to some of the information requested. These exemptions apply because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. The exemptions recognise the need for Ministers to have a private space within which to seek advice and views from officials before reaching the settled public position and which were given in the final briefings, lines to take and news release on the day of the launch. Disclosing the content of free and frank briefing material on the assurances and state of readiness regarding the launch of the Bank and its early years will substantially inhibit such briefing in the future, particularly because such discussions on the issue are still ongoing and final decisions have yet to be taken.

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 allowing a private space within which officials can provide free and frank advice and views to Ministers in briefings and submissions. It is clearly in the public interest that Ministers can properly make decisions, potentially provide sound information to Parliament (to which they are accountable), and defend robustly the Government’s policies and decisions. They need full and candid advice from officials to enable them to do so. Premature disclosure of this type of information could lead to a reduction in the comprehensiveness and frankness of such advice and views in the future, which would not be in the public interest.

An exemption under section 33(1)(b) of FOISA applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies when disclosure of this particular information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of the Scottish National Investment Bank and MSquared Lasers Ltd. In particular, disclosing the information would provide MSquared’s competitors with an advantage over them in relation to MSquared’s financial position and, potentially, in future funding applications to the Scottish Government, Scottish National Investment Bank and elsewhere.

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 and transparent government.

However, there is a greater public interest in not weakening the financial viability of MSquared by not providing their competitors with an advantage. It will also ensure that MSquared and others continue to submit funding applications to the Scottish Government and the Scottish National Investment Bank, furthering the public interest by supporting access to finance for businesses and contributing to Scotland’s economic growth.

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, i.e. the names and contact details of civil servants (in grades below the Senior Civil Service) and others, 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.

An exemption under section 39(1) of FOISA (health and safety) applies to some of the information requested because we consider that release would be likely to endanger the safety of Ministers.

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. While we recognise that there is some public interest in release of this information in order to promote openness, there is a much greater public interest in avoiding significant risks to the safety of Ministers.

You may wish to be aware that some of the information you have requested is available publicly from the internet at:
Investing in Scotland’s future - gov.scot (www.gov.scot), Press Release | The Scottish National Investment Bank | First Minister launches Scottish National Investment Bank (thebank.scot) and M SQUARED ANNOUNCES £32.5M IN NEW FINANCING TO ACCELERATE GROWTH AND ADVANCE QUANTUM TECHNOLOGIES (m2lasers.com).

The final version of the letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee has been published at: https://www.parliament.scot/S5_EconomyJobsFairWork/Inquiries/20201121-CabSecEFW-SNIB.pdf.

 

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Contact

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

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