FOI reference: FOI/17/01343
Date received: 19 June 2017
Date responded: 4 July 2017
A copy of all background notes and/or briefing/s provided to the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy with regard to the meeting with Falkirk Economic Partnership in relation to the meeting on the local economy held on 2nd March 217, and a copy of any minute and note taken during or subsequent to this meeting.
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 section s30(c), s.33(1)(b) and s.38(1)(b) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why the exemptions apply are explained in the Annex to this letter.
Reasons for not providing information
Section 30(c) - Substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs
An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some the information requested (Ministerial Briefing pages 21/22). It is essential for Ministers to be able to communicate, often in confidence, with external stakeholders on a range of issues, including ongoing engagement with the oil and gas and chemicals sectors. Disclosing some information about these meetings, particularly without the consent of the stakeholder,is likely to undermine their trust in the Scottish Government and will substantially inhibit communications on this type of issue in the future. These stakeholders will be reluctant to participate in meetings and provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that their views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions relate to matters regarding the company's operational or corporate activities. This would significantly harm the Government's ability to carry out many aspects of its work, and could adversely affect its ability to gather all of the evidence it needs to make fully informed decisions.
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 meet with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position on economic development and the oil and gas and chemicals sectors, 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 decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence, such as that provided by key stakeholders in the oil and gas and chemicals sectors. 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 policy making process, which would not be in the public interest.
Section 33(1)(b) – Commercial interests
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:
(A) Ministerial Briefing pages 17: Informaton relates to the costs quoted in a business case produced by Falkirk Valley College which is still subject to procurement process. Releasing this information would be prejudicial to these discussions.
(B) Ministerial Briefing pages 23: Information relates to commercial analysis of the viability of low carbon heating within the Grangemouth area opportunities for Falkirk Council and disclosure will undermine future opportunities for the Council to tender for commercial development of this site.
(B) Ministerial Briefing pages 23/24: Information relates to a private enterprise, and disclosing this information would be likely to give competitors an advantage in future similar commercial developments, which would substantially prejudice the enterprise's ability to submit competitive tenders and so could significantly harm their 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 tender for, or enter into, Scottish Government contracts, to ensure that we are always able to obtain the best value for public money.
Section 38(1)(b) – Applicant has asked for personal data of a third party
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party, ie personal mobile phone numbers and name of a non-senior civil service official at their request (Ministerial Briefing page 21), and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998. 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.
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