In your FOISA request of 31 October 2023 you requested:
“all whatsapp messages sent and received by a) Ministers, b) Special Advisers, and c) Senior Civil Servants, between the dates 10/10/23 and 23/10/23 regarding Council Tax and the Council Tax Freeze”
Your email asked for a review of the response to the request on the basis that use of the exemption provided by section 30(b)(i) is not warranted and the redactions should be lifted, that all information may not have been released and you requested a list of who sent and received the messages.
You emailed separately on 28 November 2023 requesting clarification on who sent and received the messages. This subsequent request was recorded under case reference 202300287253. Please note that this case was withdrawn and the issue has been considered as part of this review of your original request.
Following my review I have decided the original decision is confirmed with a modification. I am modifying the original decision to disclose the names of the senior officials and the special adviser who sent and received the messages.
Lifting of redactions
The information provided in the response to your request was identified following comprehensive searches by Ministerial Private Offices, Special Advisers and senior officials. I am satisfied that searches carried out were thorough and any follow-up search would not provide a different result. Therefore I have decided there is no merit in requesting a repeat of the series of searches undertaken as part of the original request.
Two messages were identified as being in scope of your request. Information in one message was partly redacted as it constitutes policy advice to the First Minister. The second message was disclosed fully as it did not constitute policy advice.
The redacted text related to advice from officials on a contemporary policy issue which remains live. The development of policy for a council tax freeze is continuing while negotiations with COSLA are ongoing and arrangements are made for implementation from April 2024.
Releasing advice to Ministers, and the views of officials, on an aspect of live policy would inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purpose of deliberation in line with section 30(b)(i). In addition, disclosing policy advice at this point may negatively impact the finalisation of policy and influence negotiations with COSLA.
The ability of officials to provide candid advice to Ministers is essential to enable discussion leading to effective decision making. Disclosing advice while a policy remains live would result in officials being less likely to offer such advice in the future if there is a risk the detail were to be made public while final details for implementation and related decisions were still in the process of being made.
Public Interest Test
I have considered the public interest test in relation to the application of this exemption. On balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. I recognise that there is a public interest in a council tax freeze for the reasons of openness, accountability and transparency. However, there must be space for future free and frank provision of advice and the public interest is against full release to maintain this principle.
The wider public interest is partly addressed by information already in the public domain through the First Minister’s announcement of a council tax freeze on 17 October 2023. The announcement can be found online at Council tax frozen - gov.scot (www.gov.scot). The public interest will be met further by the publication of information regarding the council tax freeze this month alongside the Scottish Budget.
Names of who sent and received the messages
You have asked for names of who sent the messages and who received them. The senior officials and special adviser are noted below.
Message 1 – Permanent Secretary sent the message only to Anna Kynaston, Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary
Message 2 – Kevin Pringle, Special Adviser sent the message only to First Minister
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.
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
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