Publication - FOI/EIR release

Covid-19 briefings relating to restrictions: FOI release

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

Published:
15 Jun 2021
Covid-19 briefings relating to restrictions: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202100164644 review of 202100140372
Date received: 22 Feb 2021
Date responded: 14 Jun 2021
Information requested

1. Minutes from any formal four nations discussions with Michael Gove and other representatives from UK, Welsh Governments and Northern Ireland executive between October 1 and January 15 on the topic of Covid-19 and four nations alignment on restrictions/measures.

2. Notes taken by Scottish Government staff or ministers from those same meetings.

3. Any agendas, ministerial briefings, notes, memos, taken by ministers or by staff, including special advisers.

Response

I have been asked to consider your request and to decide whether the original response should be confirmed, with or without modifications, as appropriate, or that a fresh decision should be substituted. I can confirm that I was not involved in the handling or decision-making around the original response. I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed, with modifications.

1. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested in this part of your request. The UK Government was responsible for arranging and supporting these meetings and the Scottish Government does not hold the information you have requested. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

2/3. In conducting my review, I have reconsidered all of the information previously judged to be within the scope of your request but where an exemption was applied to its release. In doing so I have also taken account of points you have raised in relation to the ongoing public interest in the four nations response to Covid-19. I have therefore concluded that some further information should be disclosed which is attached. I am however satisfied that exemptions under section 28(1) (relations within the UK), section 29(1)(a) (policy development) and section 30(b)(i) and (ii) (free and frank advice and exchange of views) continue to apply to some of the information previously withheld.

I acknowledge that whilst our initial response noted that an exemption applied under section 29(1)(a) we did not set out our reasoning to explain why we considered this exemption should be applied. Our reasoning is therefore set out below.

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 of the Scottish Government’s policy on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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. The Scottish Government recognises 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 how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic 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.

In addition, I have concluded that the agendas for two meetings within scope of this request are not held by the Scottish Government for the purposes of FOISA because we received them in confidence from the UK Government. This means that, under the terms of section 3(2)(a)(ii) of FOISA, we are unable to disclose it in response to your request. However, you may wish to submit a new request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) to foi-team@cabinetoffice.gov.uk
who should be able to help you further.

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