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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 28 July to 8 August 2014

 We published eleven decisions between 28 July and 8 August - here are the details:

 

Key messages:

  • Technical advice needs to be substantiated
    Some of our cases - such as Decision 167/2014, which considered an unconventional gas development - deal with very technical issues. In cases like these, we expect authorities to give us specialist or technical advice about the effects of disclosing the information involved - and to be able to substantiate that advice with proof or evidence.

 

  • Disclosing redacted versions of documents might help your public interest arguments
    In three of the decisions we issued this week, the public authorities disclosed some information to the requester. It is obviously good practice to disclose as much information as you can, and releasing redacted ("blacked out") documents can help with this. In Decision 169/2014, the fact that the authority had disclosed so much information went a long way to satisfying the public interest, with the effect that the public interest in disclosing the remaining withheld information was reduced.

 

  • Our decisions can't always tell the full story
    When we carry out an investigation, we consider all relevant submissions made by requesters, authorities and, in some cases, third parties. However, we can't always explain in full why we have come to a particular decision, as this may mean disclosing sensitive information. Decision 170/2014 was such a decision.

 

  • You should have specific reasons for withholding information
    If you receive an information request, but decide that the information is exempt from disclosure, it's important to be able to explain exactly why. General arguments which don't relate closely to the information are unlikely to be convincing. Arguments for withholding information are stronger if you can give detailed reasons why particular information should not be provided in particular circumstances. In Decision 160/2014 and Decision 161/2014, the authority provided detailed reasons, which we agreed with.

 

  • Don't make assumptions about what the requester knows
    When providing advice and assistance about information which is already available to a requester, you shouldn't make assumptions about how much the requester knows. There may be cases where the simplest course of action is to provide the information, even when it is available elsewhere. In Decision 162/2014, we accepted that the information was available and accessible in a library, but commented that the authority shouldn't have expected the requester to know exactly where in the library this information was.

 

  • Information may have been deleted…if it was even created in the first place
    Public authorities create huge amounts of information - but they don't always keep information for a long time. In general, the older the information is, the less likely it is to have been kept unless there are legal or business reasons for doing so. So if you're looking for information dating from several years ago, as in Decision 164/2014, it's best to be realistic about its chances of survival. 

    In some cases, you might find that you've asked for information which was never created in the first place. We can't say whether the information should have been created - all we can do is establish whether it existed when you asked for it. Decision 163/2014 is a case where the applicant expected the authority to have information about certain costs, but the information had never been collected.

 

  • Remember to keep notes of your searches
    Requesters frequently appeal to us where they don't think the authority has found all the information covered by their request. In such cases, we will always ask authorities for details of the searches they carried out, so it's good practice to keep notes of the record sets searched, who carried out the searches, what keywords they used, etc. Decision 166/2014 concerns a case where, in an unusual twist, it was the requester who asked for information about the searches carried out in relation to his previous request.

 

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 160/2014 Mr Tom Gordon and the Scottish Ministers
  • Decision 161/2014 Mr Tom Gordon and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Gordon asked the Ministers for the results of any modelling done on the child care proposals found in the White Paper "Scotland's Future". The Ministers withheld the information, saying that the child care policy was still being developed. We accepted that the policy direction set out in Scotland's Future could not be interpreted as anything more than high-level policy statements which would be subject to development, and agreed that the information should be withheld.

 

  • Decision 162/2014 Mr Q and the Scottish Prison Service
    Mr Q asked for information relating to the calling of witnesses at complaint meetings, and was told he could obtain the information from the Prison Library. Following an investigation, we accepted that the information requested was reasonably obtainable by Mr Q at the time of his request, but also found that he should have been given more advice and assistance to help him locate the information.

 

  • Decision 163/2014 Ms Valerie Robson and Scottish Borders Council
    Ms Robson asked about the costs of a retendering exercise for the Council's Homecare contract. The Council told Ms Robson that it did not hold any information about the costs. It explained that it did not record the staff time taken up by the retendering exercise because this was considered to be part of the core activities of the staff involved. After investigation, we accepted the Council's position.

 

  • Decision 164/2014 Mr David Bruce and Highland Council
    Mr Bruce asked for information about the decision to place a bus shelter in a particular location. The Council told Mr Bruce it did not hold any information about this, and explained why. Following an investigation, we accepted that the Council did not hold any relevant information.

 

  • Decision 165/2014 Mr Archie Burns and City of Edinburgh Council
    Mr Burns asked for the ballot papers of a community council election. The Council failed to respond in time.

 

  • Decision 166/2014 Mr Roy Mackay and Scottish Borders Council
    Mr Mackay asked Scottish Borders Council for information about searches carried out in relation to his previous information requests. The Council failed to respond in time.

 

  • Decision 167/2014 Mr Ed Pybus and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
    Mr Pybus asked SEPA for a copy of the Field Development Plan Addendum Report for an unconventional gas development north of Falkirk. SEPA disclosed a redacted version of the report, arguing that most of the information in the report would prejudice the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information (regulation 10(5)(e) of the EIRs). We were satisfied that the exception applied. We recognised that there was a strong public interest in the disclosure of the report but decided that, on balance, there was a greater public interest in withholding the information.

 

  • Decision 168/2014 Mr Sol Shaw and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Mr Shaw asked the Council for information about road safety reports. The Council failed to respond to Mr Shaw's request and request for review until we became involved.

 

  • Decision 169/2014 Mr Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers 
    Mr Hutcheon asked the Ministers for the communications they had with Entrepreneurial Spark about the development and setting up of the Scottish Edge awards. The Ministers disclosed most of communications - but we ordered the Ministers to disclose some more.

 

  •  Decision 170/2014 Mr Harry Corton and City of Edinburgh Council
    This involved a request for details of investments in the Lothian Pension Fund. The Council withheld some of the information on the basis that disclosure would substantially prejudice the Fund's commercial interests. We agreed.

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