Information

Rail fare freeze and cost of living funding discussions: FOI release

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


Information requested

1. ‘Please provide a copy of all documents which discuss the rail fare freeze to March 2023, including all correspondence involving ministers and the media office and correspondence with ScotRail or Transport Scotland.

2. Please provide a copy of all documents in the last six months which discuss the Youth Music Initiative, including all correspondence involving ministers and the media office.

3. Please provide a copy of all documents which relate to or discuss the utilisation of funding provided by the UK Government as part of the cost of living announcements in spring 2022. On what date was this money (a) announced and (b) received through consequentials, have any other announcements of funding been made following its receipt, and does any of this funding still remain unallocated?

Please include copies of all correspondence, documents, reports, minutes, letters and emails.’

Response

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 s.29(1)(a) (policy formulation), s.29(1)(b) (Ministerial communications), s.30(b)(i) (free and frank advice), s.30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views), s.33(1)(b) (commercial interests), and s.38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why that exemption(s) applies are explained below.

Where an attachment is mentioned in the text of an email and that attachment is relevant to the request, a page break has been inserted, meaning that the attachment is displayed on the page after the email which refers to it.

Where information has been redacted, I have said which exemption has been applied, apart from where section 38(1)(b) (personal information) has been used.

For part 2 of your request – in which you asked for ‘a copy of all documents in the last six months which discuss the Youth Music Initiative, including all correspondence involving ministers and the media office’ – the costs of locating of locating, retrieving and providing the information requested would exceed the upper cost limit of £600. The scope for the request was broad enough that internal searches indicated that the time taken to locate the documents and prepare them for release would exceed that permitted by FOISA. Under section 12 of FOISA public authorities are not required to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying would exceed the upper cost limit, which is currently set at £600 by Regulations made under section 12.

You may, however, wish to consider reducing the scope of your request in order that the costs can be brought below £600. Requesting information on a specific announcement relating to the Youth Music Initiative might help with this. You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner’s ‘Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs’ on his website at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx.

Part 3 of your request asked for ‘documents which relate to or discuss the utilisation of funding provided by the UK Government as part of the cost of living announcements in spring 2022’, as well as specific questions on this funding. The answers to your questions are given in Annex B, after the information released in response to your request.

REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION
Exemptions under sections s.29(1)(a) (policy formulation), s.29(1)(b) (Ministerial communications), s.30(b)(i) (free and frank advice), s.30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views), s.33(1)(b) (commercial interests), and s.38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA apply to some of the information you have requested.

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 the rail fare freeze, and consequential funding received from the UK 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 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 the policy areas mentioned above 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 29(1)(b) of FOISA (Ministerial communications) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to communications between Scottish Ministers. Exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice) and 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) of FOISA 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. These exemptions recognise the need for officials to have a private space within which to provide free and frank advice to Ministers and other officials before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on the rail fare freeze, and consequential funding received from the UK Government will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to a sensitive or controversial issue such as budgetary matters.

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 Ministers and officials a private space within which policy positions can be explored and refined, until the Government as a whole can adopt policies that are sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space also allows for 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 and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

An exemption under section 33(1)(b) of FOISA (commercial 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 commercial interests of ScotRail by affecting its financial interests.

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 provide commercial services.

S.38(1)(b) exempts information from disclosure where it relates to personal information. 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. In this instance, this information includes names, email addresses, phone numbers, and similar items.

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.

FOI 202200320901 - Information Released - Annex B

FOI 202200320901 - Information Released - Annex A

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

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