FOI reference: FOI/18/00212
Date received: 23 January 2018
Date responded: 20 February 2018
For the dates 1 January 2016 to 20 February 2018:
Correspondence between SNH and the Scottish Government regarding non-domestic rates on sporting rights
Correspondence between Forestry Commission and the Scottish Government regarding non-domestic rates on sporting rights
I enclose a copy of most 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 29(1)(b) (ministerial communications), section 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) or section 30(c) (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained below.
Reasons for not providing information
An exemption applies, subject to the public interest test.
Exemptions under section 29(1)(b) (ministerial communications), section 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) or section 30(c) (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) of FOISA apply to some of the information you have requested.
These exemptions apply because it is essential for Ministers and officials to be able to communicate, often in confidence, internally and with external stakeholders on a range of issues, including non-domestic rates for sporting rights. Disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. The exemptions recognise 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 Forestry Commission on non-domestic rates for sporting rights would substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, because these stakeholders would be reluctant to provide their views fully and frankly if they believed that those views were likely to be made public.
This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered whether the public interest in disclosing the information in question 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 position on non-domestic rates for sporting rights, enabling the Government as a whole to adopt a position 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 discussed with the Forestry Commission. 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. There is also an important public interest in avoiding the loss of stakeholder confidence in cases where they thought they were providing comments in confidence, which would be inevitable if an individual's contribution was released against their wishes.
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