Publication - FOI/EIR release

COVID-19 bonus for health care workers: FOI Review

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

Published:
14 Jun 2021
COVID-19 bonus for health care workers: FOI Review
FOI reference: FOI/202100204291 review of 202100168265
Date received: 14 May 2021
Date responded: 11 Jun 2021
Information requested

Information held by the Scottish government relating to the £500 covid bonus for health and care staff.

Communication with the UK Government (including but not limited to departments such as the Treasury, DWP, and agencies such as HMRC) relating to the £500 health and care worker bonus announced by the First Minister at the SNP party conference in November. I am interested in any discussion of tax and benefit effects. Please provide any relevant communications in 2020 and 2021.

 

Response

On review, the time taken to internally assess and approve this FOISA request was materially impacted by the focus of resource to address the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. While this is a genuine reason, it does not detract from the fact that we failed to respond to your Freedom of Information request within the established and expected timescales for which I once again apologise.

I can now provide our response to your original request and I attach a copy of most of the information you 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 sections 28(1) (relations within the United Kingdom), 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) and 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why these exemptions applies are explained below.

An exemption applies

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 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 applies, subject to the public interest test

An exemption under section 28(1) of FOISA (relations within the UK) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. It is essential for the
effective administration of the UK as a whole that there should be regular, and often private, communications between the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the other devolved administrations.

The release of these communications regarding the £500 Covid Bonus will mean that the UK Government is likely to be more reluctant to share such information with the Scottish Government in future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications between the Scottish Government and other UK administrations.

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 good relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and in protecting the free exchange of information between the administrations to ensure that we keep each other fully and regularly informed about matters of mutual interest, such as the development of future policy of this type. There is no public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications.

An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank 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 exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to discuss issues and options with external stakeholders before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view.

Disclosing the content of these discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions on the potential impacts of the proposed £500 payment for Scottish clients in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, because these stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that those views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions relate to a sensitive issue such as the on-going delivery of social security benefits to Scottish clients by the Department for Work and Pensions, on behalf of Scottish Ministers, under agency agreement.

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 communicate with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government’s position on the potential impacts of the proposed £500 payment for Scottish clients in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, given this benefit is currently being delivered in Scotland on behalf of Scottish Ministers by the Department of Work and Pensions under agency agreement, until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy that is sound and likely to be effective. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good policy and operational decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence, such as that provided by the Department for Work and Pensions. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between the Scottish Government and these stakeholders, which in turn will undermine the quality of the both the policy and operational decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

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