Decisions Round-up: 1 to 12 October 2018

Sometimes, requesters believe that authorities have failed to identify all relevant information. This week, we learn about the value of searching to give confidence that every effort has been made to find the information they are looking for. Authorities should be clear about what cannot be found (because it's not held), and what has been withheld. Remember also, we can't comment on whether an authority should hold or record more information than it actually does…

Learning points:


  • Searches - The right search can prevent FOI going wrong
    In Decision 146/2018, the authority said it didn't hold information. Later, a discussion with an officer revealed that it did. We found that the initial searches failed to identify where the relevant information was held. In Decision 148/2018, on the other hand, the authority got it right, leading to a decision which found in its favour.


  • We can't comment on whether information should be held
    FOI law gives a right to access the information an authority holds. Requesters often believe that authorities have failed to identify all relevant information and so haven't given them all they hold. We will assess the searches and enquiries carried out, and find out whether there are reasons why additional information isn't held. But we can't say whether an authority should retain, record, or hold more information than it does. In Decision 145/2018, requesters raised a number of such concerns which we could not consider.


  • There must be reasons for withholding information
    In some recent cases, authorities have put forward arguments which don't appear to relate to the withheld information. There must be a specific reason for withholding each piece of information and it should be apparent why disclosure would cause harm. In Decision 150/2018, we didn't accept that disclosing the information would compromise public safety. In Decision 153/2018, we didn't see how the authority's high-level arguments applied to each of its redactions.


  • Getting it right - an example of good practice
    In Decision 151/2018, although the authority failed to deal with the request as it should have, we were very pleased that it was willing to review its policy of removing information about planning consents for wind farms from its website after a few weeks. It has now committed to publishing the information for at least seven years.

Decisions issued:


  • Decision 144/2018 Ms D and Fife Council
    Ms D asked about the number of people recorded as homeless when they died. We found that the Council failed to respond to the request for review within 20 working days.


  • Decision 145/2018 Paisley Art Institute and Renfrewshire Leisure
    Renfrewshire Leisure was asked for a list of the "Alphonse Legros Gift" art works in Paisley Museum. It referred to an annotated list already published. We accepted that Renfrewshire Leisure's searches were sufficient to identify any other relevant information. However, it failed to respond to the request within FOI timescales.


  • Decision 146/2018 Mr H and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked about an investigation into North Ayrshire Council Schools' Public Private Partnership project. They stated that they did not hold any information. Mr H later discovered that this was not true. During our investigation, Police Scotland confirmed that they did in fact hold information, but had withheld it from the requester. We required them to carry out a new review and issue a response.


  • Decision 147/2018 Company J and City of Edinburgh Council
    Company J asked about the Council's decision to change the way certain planning fees were calculated, only to then return to the original system. The Council disclosed some information, but withheld some personal data, legal advice and internal communications. We found the Council had correctly withheld personal data and legal advice, but was wrong to withhold some of the internal communications.


  • Decision 148/2018 Mr N and the Crofting Commission
    Mr N asked about a croft and surrounding area. The Crofting Commission disclosed information, but Mr N wanted to know if the Crofting Commission held more information than it had disclosed. We were satisfied that appropriate searches had been carried out and all information provided.


  • Decision 149/2018 Mr M and Highland Council
    Mr M asked about two car parks in Mallaig. We found the Council failed to respond to his initial request and review request within the 20 working day timescales, and ordered it to carry out a review.


  • Decision 150/2018 Provincial Grand Black Chapter of Scotland and East Dunbartonshire Council
    The Council was asked for a report containing the source of an allegation about lack of stewarding at an event. It withheld the report. The requesters agreed that our investigation should be limited to the part of the report most relevant to their request. We found the Council was wrong to withhold this information, and ordered its disclosure.


  • Decision 151/2018 Mr E and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr E asked about a wind farm planning application. The Ministers provided some information and said that other information, removed from their website, was only available at the Scottish Government Library (requiring Mr E to visit in person).

    We found that the Ministers were wrong to say they did not hold some information, and that they had failed to make the information available as the EIRs require. During our investigation, the Ministers acknowledged that they could republish the information removed from the website. They also agreed to review the policy of removing information from the website after a few weeks, and decided it should remain there for at least seven years.


  • Decision 152/2018 Peter Cherbi and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Mr Cherbi asked about legal advice received by Police Scotland. They disclosed some information (including legal advice), but withheld the name of the advocate who provided it. We found Police Scotland was right to withhold this. However, we found that they had failed to respond to Mr Cherbi's request for review within 20 working days.


  • Decision 153/2018 West Craigs Ltd and City of Edinburgh Council
    In response to a request about the West Edinburgh Transport Appraisal (WETA) Refresh Report, the Council provided some information, but withheld some on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. We did not accept that all the information could be withheld on the basis of the arguments provided by the Council, and ordered disclosure.


  • Decision 154/2018 David Redden and Fife Council
    Mr D asked about Council officers suspended due to allegations of gross misconduct. The Council withheld the information under the exemption which protects personal data. We agreed with the reasons put forward by the Council.


  • Decision 155/2018 Dr Q and the Scottish Ambulance Service Board (SASB)
    Dr Q asked about a decision by the SASB not to track BASICS responders using Airwave radios. The SASB failed to respond. In its review outcome, it explained how it tracks the responders in question. We found that the SASB failed to respond to the request within FOI timescales. However, we accepted that it did not hold the information Dr Q had requested.

Resolved cases


The FOI Act allows us to try to resolve cases informally. This often involves us giving advice to requesters to let them decide whether to continue with the appeal or, in the case of public authorities, to decide whether to disclose information they had previously withheld.

We resolved five cases informally in September. In each case, the requester withdrew their application for a decision.


  • One was satisfied after the authority provided an explanation it had given to us, and confirmed that it did not hold some information.


  • One decided to try a different approach.


  • One accepted our advice and made a new request to the authority.


  • Disclosure of some related or withheld information satisfied two requesters.

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