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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 23 - 27 January 2017

We take a look this week at when an authority "holds" information for the purposes of freedom of information legislation. This is often a simple question of fact, but what happens when the authority has to compile or collate the requested information from other information? There is also a decision this week that considers what impact records management has on FOI.

Learning points:

 

 

  • If requested information has to be compiled from other information, is it held?
    In Decision 007/2017, the authority argued that it did not hold requested information, because it did not report on the information or collate it. However, where an authority holds the "building blocks" from which the information can be generated or extracted without any skill or judgement on the part of the authority, then it is deemed to hold that information for the purposes of FOI.

 

  • Does records management support FOI?
    In Decision 009/2017, we were satisfied that, because of the way records were held, it would cost more than £600 to comply with the request. This meant that the authority didn't have to comply. The requesters believed that the information was important and should be held in such a way that it could be disclosed without incurring these costs. We asked the authority to consider if it needed to change its record keeping to comply with the Section 61 Code of Practice  on Records Management under FOI. This says that authorities should keep the records they need for "business, regulatory, legal and accountability purposes". This includes responding to FOI requests. 

 

  • Authorities can avoid unnecessary decisions by identifying information first time round
    In two of the cases featured this week (Decision 005/2017 and Decision 006/2017), authorities disclosed information during our investigation, but breached FOI by failing to disclose it when it was first asked for. These breaches would have been avoided if the information was identified and disclosed on time.

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 005/2017 Douglas Burns and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Mr Burns asked for information about a planning application. The Council did not disclose the information covered by the request until we started investigating. For this reason, we found that it had failed to comply with the legislation.

 

  •  Decision 006/2017 Philip Dinsdale and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
    SEPA was asked about its voluntary severance scheme. It withheld the information under the exemptions relating to the effective conduct of public affairs and personal information.

    We accepted that SEPA was entitled to withhold the personal data of staff who had applied for voluntary severance. However, we found that other information had been wrongly withheld and should be disclosed. 

 

  •  Decision 007/2017 Robert Wilson and Scottish Enterprise
    Mr Wilson asked for the total sum of money which Scottish Enterprise and its subsidiaries had paid directly to micro businesses in support grants in 2014/2015, and the number of micro businesses this had been distributed among. Scottish Enterprise said it did not hold the information.

    We disagreed and ordered Scottish Enterprise to respond on the basis that it held information falling within the scope of the request. 

 

  • Decision 008/2017 Ms M and South Lanarkshire Council
    The Council initially withheld an accident report on the grounds that it was legally privileged. It later argued that disclosure would cause substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs and would breach the Data Protection Act.

    We accepted that most of the information was personal data which should be withheld, but ordered the disclosure of three pages in the accident report (with staff names redacted), which were not exempt under any of the exemptions claimed. 

 

  • Decision 009/2017 Dorothy King and Christopher J Wybrew and Police Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked for details of speeding offences by heavy goods vehicles on a section of the A75. We found that providing this information would cost more than the £600 limit, so Police Scotland did not have to comply with the request. Police Scotland were asked to reflect on the way their records were managed.

    Police Scotland were also asked for their policy on enforcing speed limit violations, but refused this request, believing that it would encourage drivers not to observe speed limits.

    We accepted that disclosure would be likely to encourage a proportion of the public to drive up to the limit at which they believe the police will take enforcement action, and agreed that the information should be withheld under the exemption for law enforcement.

 

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