FOI reference: FOI/17/01361
Date received: 19 June 2017
Date responded: 10 July 2017
A copy of all background notes and/or briefing/s provided to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution with regard to the meeting with Alison McGregor CEO of HSBC Scotland on 31st March 2017. In addition, and again under Freedom of Information legislation you asked for a copy of any minute and note taken during or subsequent to this meeting.
I enclose a copy of most of the information you requested in the format you asked for.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested, as the Scottish Government does not have this information. The reasons why we don't have the information are explained in the Annex to this letter. Also, we are unable to provide some of the information requested because exemption under sections, 30(c) (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) and 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA apply to that information.
The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained in the Annex to this letter.
REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION
The Scottish Government does not have the information.
The Scottish Government does not have some the information you have asked for because there was no minute taken of the meeting in question.
This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested.
An exemption applies, not subject to the public interest test Section 38(1)(b)
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data i.e. names and contact details of individuals, 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.
Exemptions applied, subject to the public interest test Section 30(c)
An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. It is essential for Ministers to be able to meet often in confidence, with external stakeholders on a range of issues, including their business operations in Scotland.
Disclosing the content of the information from these meetings particularly without the consent of the stakeholder is likely to undermine their trust in the Scottish Government and will substantially inhibit communications in the future. These stakeholders will be reluctant to participate in meetings if they believe that information is likely to be made public particularly while these discussions are still on going and decisions have not been taken. 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 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. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting the process of 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 business matters, until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective.
This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence, such as that provided by HSBC. 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.
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