FOI reference: FOI/18/00393
Date received: 8 February 2018
Date responded: 6 March 2018
In a recent release to me, government documents revealed the existence of a central email address identified as 'FOI SpAds PO'
- The date on which this address was set up
- On whose instruction the address was set up
- Who has access to emails sent to this address
Please also release
- Any guidance or other documentation (including internal communications) regarding the establishment/operation/use of this address.
You may find it helpful to refer to the information within the Scottish Government's step by step guide to handling FOI requests and reviews which is available from
https://foiguidance.sgworksite.org.uk using the guest log in - Username: SCOTLAND\foi and Password: Scotland1 (https://beta.gov.scot/publications/freedom-of-information-document-collection/ - section on guidance for public bodies).
The 5 minute 5 step initial checklist and step 33 for requests and 32 for reviews details guidance relating to FOI handling by Special Advisers.
1. The answer to the first part of your request is that the Special Advisers' Private Secretary requested the creation of the dedicated mailbox 'FOI SpAds PO' in January 2017. This was to assist with the management of FOI cases within the office when officials seek advice from Special Advisers on a FOI case in advance of the case going to Ministers for clearance. The use of a dedicated FOI mailbox replaced the previous system of FOI cases being sent to the Special Advisers' office general administration mailbox and was one of the steps taken to address concerns expressed by the then Scottish Information Commissioner about the Scottish Government's failure to meet its FOI performance targets. The mailbox is a tool used by the Special Advisers' Private Office team to monitor the progress and status of FOI cases being considered by Special Advisers. It does not form part of the official record, officials are responsible for ensuring exchanges are filed appropriately. To date only members of the Special Advisers' Private Office Team have ever been given access to the mailbox.
2. I enclose a copy of some of the information you have requested in the second part of your request.
The internal guidance for the operation of the mailbox 'FOI SpAds PO' is attached at Annex A.
The internal guidance for working with Special Advisers on Freedom of Information requests can be found at Annex B. A small amount of information has been redacted from this guidance because an exemption under section 38(1)(b) (personal information) applies to the 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 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 email address has also been redacted from both sets of guidance because an exemption under section 29(1)(d) applies to that information as it relates to the operation of any Ministerial private office. 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 recognize 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 preserving the efficient and effective operation of the private office.
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