FOI reference: FOI/17/02884
Date received: 24 November 2017
Date responded: 27 December 2017
Copies of the final versions of all documents presented in connection with any consultations that took place between Scottish Government and the industry in connection with the development of the term aquaculture Innovation Sites in the context of the "Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Growth 2030", together with copes of all emails, letters, notes of telephone conservations and the minutes of all meetings
Copies of any reports following any assessments that have been carried out to assess the likely finiancial effects, positive or negative, on local micro-economies of the arrival of Innovation Sites in particular areas
Copies of all all emails, letters, notes of telephone conversations and the minutes of any meetings which have taken place between officials of Scottish Government and Argyll & Bute Council in connection with Innovation Sites and the processing of applications relating thereto
You also asked a number of questions regarding the term aquaculture 'innovation sites'.
I enclose a copy of most of the information you requested. 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. Information not held is outlined in the attached Annex. We have provided an extract of a document at page 15. FOISA guidance allows for the extraction of information provided where the remainder of a document falls outwith the scope of the request.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to release one email because an exemption under section 30(b)(ii) – free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation - of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why that exemption applies are explained below.
1. Please supply an explanation of what is meant by the term "Innovation Site" in the context of the Strategic Plan (Aquaculture Growth to 2030).
'Aquaculture Growth to 2030' is an industry owned strategy document, with 20 strategic priorities and recommendations. The first recommendation of the strategy was the formation of an industry leadership group (ILG) which was endorsed by Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Mr Ewing, and the group has now met on several occasions.
One of the key themes included in Aquaculture Growth to 2030 is accelerating innovation.
Industry expressed an interest in exploring the possibility of aquaculture innovation sites at the ILG and held two industry inclusive discussions organised by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC). SAIC is one of 8 Innovation Centres established by Scottish Government in 2014. Over £11 million of public funds, matched by industry, was used to launch SAIC to support growth, sustainability and profitability of the industry in Scotland. In particular SAIC aims to find innovative solutions to industry challenges, by bringing academia and industry together to focus on applied science. SAIC is championing the development of innovation sites as an important tool to assist the industry to develop solutions in priority areas, such as fish health.
An item on industry proposals for innovation sites was tabled at the ILG and Scottish Government officials arranged a meeting on 13 November to discuss the concept. Several of the documents released are in relation to the organisation of this meeting and the items discussed. Documents released are representative of the discussions regarding innovation sites to date, which are at an early stage of development.
2. Please identify the strategic objectives sought by the Scottish Government in promoting Innovation Sites, with regard to protection of the environment and any other matters.
Scottish Government champions innovation and this year an 'Innovation Action Plan for Scotland' was published. Investment in innovation was a key component of the recently announced budget for 2018/19. We want to create an innovation culture in business and public services and to increase awareness of sources of innovation support.
In the context of aquaculture, we wish to create an enabling environment for innovation and support a world leading aquaculture sector. SAIC are a key driver of innovation in aquaculture and we are committed to working with SAIC and the wider sector. Although discussions are at an early stage, we would consider that innovation sites could support development of new fish husbandry methods, tools to improve fish health or environmental interactions.
3. What are/will be the criteria for identifying Innovation Sites? Have any been identified so far? Is so please supply the locations.
A framework for innovation sites is yet to be determined and the 'innovation' theme is being discussed currently in the widest context. Accordingly, innovation sites or locations have not been identified.
4. Has any advice been obtained about any special measures to protect the local environments surrounding Innovation Sites? In Particular have steps been put in place to survey the proposed sites in order to assess their existing ecologies, the presence of absence of particular types of flora and fauna and to record same in order that any future environmental damage can be identified? Will the required Environmental Statements be produced by the industry, as at present, or by an independent body?
5. Will Innovation Sites generally require local authority planning consent? Has any special guidance been issued to planning departments in relation to handling applications?
As no sites have been identified to date I am unable to answer questions 4 and 5, however I would like to reassure you that the Scottish Government takes environmental protection seriously. We have a duty to protect the marine environment and environmental considerations will be appropriately assessed before the establishement of any proposed innovation site.
Scottish Government is committed to the sustainable growth of aquaculture. In Scotland, fish and shellfish farming contributes some £620 million to the national economy in gross value added (GVA) every year. Atlantic salmon production accounts for 90% of all economic impact, supporting 10,340 full-time equivalent jobs and generating £540 million in GVA.
Reasons for not providing information
An exception under regulation 11(2) of the EIRs (personal information) applies to a small amount of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998. This exception 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 exception.
Section 30(b)(ii) – free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation
An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to discuss issues and options with external stakeholders before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of these discussions with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre on aquaculture innovation sites will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, because these stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that those views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions are still ongoing and decisions have not been taken.
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 communicate with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's policy on aquaculture innovation sites, 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 decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence. 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 decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.
The Scottish Government does not hold some of the information
The Scottish Government does not have 'copies of any reports following any assessments that have been carried out to assess the likely finiancial effects, positive or negative, on local micro-economies of the arrival of Innovation Sites in particular areas or information relating the processing of applications relating to Innovation Sites'. Discussions on Innovation Sites are at an early stage and this documentation does not exisit.
This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.
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