Publication - FOI/EIR release

Correspondence relating to Scottish Government Audit and Assurance Committee (SGAAC): FOI release

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

Published:
11 Feb 2021
Correspondence relating to Scottish Government Audit and Assurance Committee (SGAAC): FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202100134076
Date received: 23 Dec 2020
Date responded: 9 Feb 2021
Information requested

"The minutes (and associated materials, such as, but not limited to agendas, papers, reports or presentations) for any meetings held between senior Scottish Government staff and nonexecutive directors and deputy directors of the Scottish Government. I am interested in records relating to any meetings that have taken place in the last 18 months."

Further refinement: "the documentation relating to only the two most recent meetings."

Response

The Scottish Government Audit and Assurance Committee (SGAAC) is the sole Scottish Government (SG) Board which is attended by all of SG’s Non-Executive Directors (NXDs) and SG’s senior leadership. The scope of the request covers the meetings of 22 June 2020 and 22 September 2020 and the relevant material circulated for those meetings.

I have sent separately two emails (one for each SGAAC meeting) with a copy of some of the information you requested in Microsoft Word (where possible), Microsoft Excel and PDF formats.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested. The Committee plays a key role in ensuring SG is effective in discharging its governance and assurance responsibilities to Parliament. In doing so it must routinely consider information and provide advice on issues which fall under a number of exemptions, as follows: sections s.29(1)(a) (policy formulation), s.30(b)(i) and (ii) (free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views), s.30(c) (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs), s.33(i)(b) (Substantial prejudice to commercial interests and the economy), s.33(ii)(b) (financial interests), and s.38(1)(b) (personal information). The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below. You may wish to note however that SGAAC’s work supports the production of the SG’s Consolidated Accounts and the Permanent Secretary’s Governance Statement, both of which are laid in Parliament and published annually in September. You can find them online here.

An exemption under section 29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of government policy) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to the formulation and development of the Scottish Government’s policy on financial management, internal control and risk management. 

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 high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on financial management, internal control and risk management will be disclosed in the near future, when it may undermine or constrain the Government’s view on that policy while it is still under discussion and development.

An exemption under section 30(b)(i) and (ii) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies 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. This exemption recognises the need for Committee members and SG senior management to have a private space within which to discuss and explore options before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank discussions on financial management, internal control and risk management will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, particularly because these discussions are still ongoing and decisions have not been taken.

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 allowing Ministers and officials a private space within which to explore and refine the Government’s position on financial management, internal control and risk management, until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers.

An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. Disclosing this information would substantially prejudice our ability to conduct financial management processes, internal control processes and risk management processes to ensure full consideration can be given to the adequacy or otherwise of these by the Committee. This would constitute substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs in terms of the exemption.

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. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting the process of financial management, internal control and risk management and ensuring that the Scottish Government is able conduct this aspect of its business effectively.

An exemption under Section 33(1)(b) of FOISA (Substantial prejudice to commercial interests) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure of the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of any person, including commercial activities and partnerships with the Scottish Government. 

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 help account for the expenditure of public money. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting the financial interests of the Scottish Government, to ensure that we are always able to obtain the best value for public money.

An exemption under section 33(2)(b) of FOISA (financial interests) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure of this particular information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the financial interests of the Scottish Government as disclosing information about how much the Scottish Government is able to pay for goods/services would substantially prejudice our ability to obtain value for money.

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, and to help account for the expenditure of public money. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting the financial interests of the Scottish Government, to ensure that we are always able to obtain the best value for public money.

An exemption under section s.38(1)b of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested because it is personal data of a third party, ie. names 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.

Due to the size of the files we are unable to upload the documents referred to above.
If you wish to consider, please contact us at the address below and we will be happy to provide.

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