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Publication - FOI / EIR Release

Sixth meeting of Council of Economic Advisers: FOI release

Published: 6 Dec 2017

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

FOI reference: FOI/17/02517
Date received: 24 October 2017
Date responded: 5 December 2017

Information requested

1. Correspondence between civil servants and Ministers on a sixth meeting of the Council of Economic Advisers; for any briefing that has been published on a sixth meeting, including proposals for a date and an agenda;

2. Correspondence between the Council members and the Scottish Government since the 27 January 2017;

and 3. more specifically any correspondence between the Council members and the Scottish Government on the 2017/18 Budget; the 2017/18 Programme for Government and the 2018/19 budget'.

Response

In response to your first point, I enclose a copy of the information you requested regarding communications between civil servants and Ministers on a sixth meeting of the Council of Economic Advisers. A small amount of the information contained in the emails has been redacted as it is outside the scope of the request.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested regarding briefing that has been published on a sixth meeting, including proposals for a date and an agenda. The reasons why we don't have the information are explained below.

Minutes of all Council meetings are published proactively at: https://beta.gov.scot/groups/council-of-economic-advisers/

In response to your second point, while our aim is to provide information wherever possible in this instance the cost of locating, retrieving and providing the information requested would exceed the £600 upper cost limit. The reason for this is that to locate and retrieve that information we would have to conduct a search of all the records of the Scottish Government to identify correspondence with individual members of the Council of Economic Advisers. It may help if I explain that we file our information according to the subject matter, not by reference to the names of individuals with whom we have corresponded. Under section 12 of FOISA public authorities are not required to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the costs of complying would exceed the upper cost limit, which is currently set at £600 by the 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. For example, you could specify the subject matter or business area in which are you interested in correspondence between Council members and officials since 27 January. You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner's 'Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs' on her website at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx.

In relation to your third point, 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 an exemption under section 25(1) of FOISA (information otherwise accessible) applies to the request for correspondence between the Council members and the Scottish Government since the 27 January on the 2017/18 Budget. This applies to minutes of the January meeting of the Council which were shared with Council members after 27 January. The minutes are publically available on the Scottish Government website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/council-of-economic-advisers-minutes-january-2017/ If you cannot access these, we are able to provide you with a paper copy.

In response to your third point also, I enclose correspondence between the Council members and the Scottish Government since the 27 January on the 2017/18 Programme for Government. 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 an exemption under section 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA applies to that information.

Also in regards to your third point, in relation to correspondence on the 2018/19 Budget while our aim is to provide the information wherever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide the information you have requested because an exemption under section 29(1)(a) (policy formulation) of FOISA applies to that information. Some of this material will be published in due course alongside the draft Budget in December.

The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.

Reasons for not providing information

The Scottish Government does not have the information.

The Scottish Government does not have the information you asked for regarding any briefing that has been published on a sixth meeting, including proposals for a date and an agenda because our searches show that, at time of your request being lodged, there were no such documents.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

An exemption applies.

An exemption under section 25(1) of FOISA (information otherwise accessible) applies to some of the information requested regarding correspondence between the Council members and the Scottish Government since the 27 January on the 2017/18 Budget. This exemption applies because the only correspondence our searches found relating to the above request were minutes from the January meeting of the Council of Economic Advisers which where the Budget 2017/18 was discussed. These minutes are publically available on the Scottish Government website at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/council-of-economic-advisers-minutes-january-2017/ If you cannot access these, we are able to provide you with a paper copy.

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.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the redacted information in the emails in relation to the Programme for Government 2017/18 because it is personal data of a third party, 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.

An exemption applies, subject to the public interest test.

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 development of the Scottish Government's policy on the Additional Rate of Income Tax in relation to the request for correspondence between the Council members and the Scottish Government since the 27 January 2017 on the Draft Budget 2018/19.

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 Additional Rate of Income Tax relating to the Draft Budget 2018/19 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.

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

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference

Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Published:
6 Dec 2017
Sixth meeting of Council of Economic Advisers: FOI release