FOI reference: FOI/17/01045
Date received: 27 April 2017
Date responded: 26 May 2017
All communications and minutes of meetings between the ministers of the Scottish Government and ministers of the Department of Work and Pensions concerning the closure of job centres in Scotland (from April 1st 2016 to date).
Please find enclosed a copy of some 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) and 29(1)(a) (the formulation or development of government policy), of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained in the Annex to this letter.
Some of the information you have requested (minutes of the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare held on 20 February 2017) is available on the Scotland Office Website. Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
Reasons for not providing information
An exemption under section 28(1) of FOISA (relations within the UK) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure of documents issued by Ministers in the Department of Work and Pensions 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 about the closure of jobcentres in Scotland 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 jobcentre closures. There is no public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications.
An exemption under section 29(1)(a), of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested. Section 29(1)(a) – formulation or development of government policy applies to some of the information requested because it relates to the development of the Scottish Government's policy on Jobcentre Plus closures.
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 closure of Jobcentre Plus offices in Scotland 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.
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 Andrew's House