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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 14 to 18 August 2017

There are learning points for both authorities and requesters in this week's round-up. For authorities, we have cases that stress the importance of taking care at every stage in the FOI process - from interpreting the request to undertaking a review. For requesters, we underline the value of providing us with as much information as you
can during an appeal, to help us properly consider your position.

Learning points:

  • Authorities - ensure your arguments are robust
    It's always important to provide robust arguments for withholding information under any exemption. In Decision 130/2017, we accepted that the information could be withheld under an exemption, but we couldn't accept all the arguments put forward by the public authority for applying that exemption.
  • Requesters - explain why you believe an authority should hold more information
    If you think a public authority has information it hasn't given you, it may be helpful to explain why you think this. In Decision 131/2017, we had clear and substantial submissions from the authority on why it didn't hold any further information. We didn't have clear submissions from the requester explaining why the authority should be expected to hold anything more. We upheld the authority's position.
  • A review should consider the request afresh
    If a requester is unhappy with the response to an information request, they can ask the authority to review its handling of the request. It's vital that an authority's review revisits its handling of the original information request fully, focusing in particular on any aspects raised by the requester in their request for review. In Decision 132/2017, the public authority found additional information during our investigation. It also decided that it could not offer arguments for exemptions it had applied at review stage. All of this suggests that the review could have been more thorough.
  • A wide-ranging request can still be a valid one
    FOI law offers a number of ways of dealing with large requests: a request which is broad in scope may still be valid. Also, while an authority is entitled to seek clarification to help it identify the requested information, a clear request (however broad) is unlikely to need clarification. In Decision 134/2017, we found that, while the request was wide in scope, it described what the requester was looking for clearly. In the circumstances, it wasn't reasonable for the authority to seek clarification.
     

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 129/2017 Anna Hamilton and Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (the SFC)
    The SFC was asked for information about its monthly reports on expenditure over £25,000. We found that the SFC failed to respond to the information request and request for review within the FOI Act's 20 working day timescales.
  • Decision 130/2017 Gareth Rose and Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for information about investment in Scotland by the Qatari government, including details of meetings between the two governments. They disclosed some information and withheld the remainder under a number of exemptions. After being asked to review their reliance on one exemption, the Ministers substituted a different exemption, on the basis that disclosure of one line in a document would harm the effective conduct of public affairs.

          Following investigation, we agreed that the Ministers were entitled to withhold the information.

  • Decision 131/2017 Allan Nugent and Glasgow City Council
    The Council was asked for information about the calculation of the taxi tariff for its area. It stated that it did not hold the information, with the exception of two reports, already published online, for which it provided weblinks. We investigated and were satisfied that the Council held no further information.
  • Decision 132/2017 Robert Hogg and City of Edinburgh Council
    The Council provided some information in response to a request about planning matters for a site in Ratho. During our investigation, the Council disclosed further information that fell within scope of the request but withheld some personal information. 

    After investigating, we accepted that all relevant information had been identified and the Council had correctly withheld personal information.
  • Decision 133/2017 Anna Hamilton and Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (the SFC)
    The SFC was asked for information about the Glasgow Clyde College Board. We found that the SFC failed to respond to the information request and request for review within the FOI Act timescales.
  • Decision 134/2017 David Howell and Stirling Council
    The Council was asked for copies of correspondence. The Council told the requester the request was invalid and - on three separate occasions - asked the requester to clarify the request.

    We found that it was not reasonable for the Council to have asked for clarification. We also found the Council had failed to comply with the information request and request for review within the FOI timescales.
  • Decision 135/2017 Ms Y and Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (the SFC)
    Ms Y asked the SFC for information about the cost for a specific temporary staffing requirement, with a breakdown by year and month. We found that the SFC failed to respond to the information request and request for review within the FOI timescales.

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