FOI reference: FOI/18/00306
Date received: 26 January 2018
Date responded: 22 February 2018
(a) A copy of any pre-meeting briefing; confirmation of all people in attendance at all meetings; agendas for all meetings; notes or minutes taken and/or action points decided during all meetings; and any post meeting briefings in relation to all meetings between any Scottish Government Minister(s) and any representative(s) from Shell or its subsidiaries during the period between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017
(b) Email correspondence between the Scottish Government and Shell or its subsidiaries during the period between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2017
I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested in Annex B.
Regarding part (a) of your request there are two meetings which fall within the scope of the request, which took place on 3 March 2017 and 5 September 2017.
Some of the information you have requested is available from the Scottish Government website https://beta.gov.scot/publications/foi-17-01426/ . Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website(s) listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.
You also asked for any post meeting briefings in relation to all meetings between any Scottish Government Minister(s) and any representative(s) from Oil and Gas UK during the period between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017. Under the terms of Section 17(1) of FOISA (information not held), the Scottish Government is not required to provide information which it does not have. 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. This information is not routinely held if there are no specific actions as a result of the meetings.
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 sections 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount the information requested. Information has also been withheld under Section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some the information requested.
Part (b) of your request referred to correspondence between the Scottish Government and Oil and Gas UK during the period between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2017 While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the costs of locating, retrieving and providing the information requested to respond to part (b) of your request would exceed the upper cost limit of £600. There has been significant engagement across Scottish Government with the sector, Marine Scotland Science have a significant engagement with the sector relating to their involvement in the routine regulation of offshore oil and gas activities in the Scottish sector of the North Sea. As such the volume of emails relating to email correspondence is considerable and the time required to comply with your request will exceeded the cost limit.
Under section 12 of FOISA public authorities are not required to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying would exceed the upper cost limit, which is currently set at £600 by 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. In order to reduce the cost of your request you may wish to consider being more specific. Is there a particular question that you require to be addressed? Or a particular interest in specific Scottish Government directorate's engagement with the oil and gas sector?
You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner's 'Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs' on his website at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.
Reasons for not providing information
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 this relates to the names and contact numbers of junior Scottish Government officials, 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 under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some the information requested. It is essential for Ministers to be able to communicate, often in confidence, with external stakeholders on a range of issues, including ongoing support and engagement with the oil and gas sector and supply chain. 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 support for the oil and gas sector, 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 sector, such as Shell. 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