Publication - FOI/EIR release

Conference call with Abellio on 11 November 2020: FOI release

Published: 10 Nov 2021

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

Published:
10 Nov 2021
Conference call with Abellio on 11 November 2020: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202100232191
Date received: 19 Aug 2021
Date responded: 19 Oct 2021
Information requested

Please can you provide details of the following meetings attended by Transport Minister Michael Mathieson and Alex Whyte and Dominic Booth, Abellio on 11th November 2020 and the conference call with Abellio and on 19th August 2020.

Details being sought include

  • Pre meeting briefing(s)
  • Agenda(s)
  • Minutes or notes from meetings
  • Post meeting action points
Response

Annex A – Documents held in relation to the meeting between Michael Matheson and Alex Whyte and Dominic Booth, Abellio on 11 November 2020.

11 November 2020
Information requested Details FOISA Exemption
Pre meeting briefing Yes Section 30(b)(i) - Substantial inhibition to free and frank provision of advice
33(1)(b) - Substantial prejudice to commercial interests
Section 38 (1)(b) – Third party data
Agenda  No Section 17 – Information not held
Minutes or notes from meetings Yes Section 30(b)(i) - Substantial inhibition to free and frank provision of advice
Section 38 (1) (b) – Third party data
Post meeting action points Yes Section 38 (1) (b) – Third party data

Annex B – Document held in relation to the conference call on 19 August 2020.

19 August 2020
Information requested Details FOISA Exemption
Pre meeting briefing Yes Section 30(b)(i) - Substantial inhibition to free and frank provision of advice
Section 38 (1) (b) – Third party data
Agenda No Section 17 – Information not held
Minutes or notes from meetings No Section 17 – Information not held
Post meeting action points No Section 17 – Information not held

From the above you will see that some information has been redacted in line with FOISA.

Section 17 – Information not held
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have an agenda, for the meeting that took place 19 August 2020 because there was no agenda , minutes / notes from the meeting or post meeting action points compiled for this meeting. There is also no agenda for the meeting held on 11 November 2020 because no agenda was compiled in advance of the meeting.

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

30(b)(ii) - Substantial inhibition to free and frank exchange of views
An exemption section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (substantial inhibition to free and frank exchange of views) applies to some of the information requested. The reasons why this exemption has been applied is outlined in Appendix A.

33(1)(b) - Substantial prejudice to commercial interests
An exemption section 33(1)(b) of FOISA (Substantial prejudice to commercial interests) applies to some of the information requested. The reasons why this exemption has been applied is outlined in Appendix A.

Section 38 (1) (b) – Third party data
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. names and contact details of individuals and companies, 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.

For ease, the information that has been redacted in line with section 30 (b)(ii) and Section 33(1)(b) has been clearly marked as follows: -
Section 30(b)(ii)
Section 33(1)(b)

The remaining information that has been redacted is that which falls into the exemption of section 38 (1) (b) – third party data.

Appendix A

Section 30(b)(ii)

An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) 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. This exemption recognises the need for officials and a member of a third party to have a private space within which to provide free and frank advice to Ministers before the Scottish Government and member of a third party reaches a settled public view.

Disclosing the content of free and frank exchange of views regarding pre meeting briefing would inhibit the exchange of views in future between officials and Ministers in relation to areas of future policy making.

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 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 exchange full and frank views, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government’s and third party’s decision making process. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, based on the best available advice, so that good policy decisions can be taken. Disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

Section 33(1)(b)
An exemption under section 33(1)(b) of FOISA (substantial prejudice to confidentiality of commercial information) applies to some of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because disclosure of this particular information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the confidentiality of Abellio ScotRail’s commercial information and thus cause substantial harm to its commercial interests. Disclosing this information would be likely to give Abellio ScotRail’s competitors an advantage in future work tendering exercises and harm its commercial business.

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 commercial interests of companies which enter into Scottish Government contracts, to ensure that our suppliers are always able to obtain the best value for public money.

About FOI
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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