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Press statement on Decision 153/2012 Mr Steven Vass and the Scottish Futures Trust and 154/2012 Mr Steven Vass and the Scottish Ministers

14 September 2012

Commissioner requires the disclosure of information about funding proposals

On 7 September the Scottish Information Commissioner issued two decisions requiring the release of scoring and evaluation information for 16 Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) proposals. These require the Scottish Government and the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) to each release the evaluation information they hold on the proposals.

Tax Incremental Financing is a method enabling local authorities to fund regeneration projects by borrowing money against predicted increases in locally-collected business taxes generated by a new development. The Scottish Futures Trust and the Scottish Ministers were members of a panel which conducted an economic evaluation of the proposals submitted by 15 Scottish local authorities. The panel's recommendations were not binding, being one factor that contributed to Ministers' final decisions.

Both the SFT and the Ministers refused to provide the information they held following a request from Steven Vass, a Sunday Herald journalist, who then appealed to the Commissioner. The Commissioner considered Mr Vass' appeal under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations (the EIRs). The EIRs sit alongside Scotland's freedom of information law, and provide access to environmental information held by Scottish public authorities and other bodies.

The Commissioner agreed with both the Ministers and the SFT that the information they held related to internal communications - which can be withheld from release under the EIRs - but nevertheless found that the public interest favoured release so ordered disclosure.

In their case, the Ministers also argued that the information was incomplete, and for this reason should not be released. The Commissioner did not share this view. She found that the information was "not in any sense incomplete", and that the EIR exception which protects such information therefore did not apply.

The Commissioner also found that the Ministers failed to provide appropriate advice and assistance to Mr Vass, despite him specifically requesting it, and failed to respond to his request within the required timescale of twenty working days.

The Commissioner's decisions require both the SFT and the Ministers to release the information they hold to Mr Vass by 22 October 2012. This takes into account the 42 days she must give public authorities to comply with her decisions.

The full text of both of these decisions are available on the Commissioner's website at Scottish Information Commissioner decisions.

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