Decisions Round-up: 13 to 17 November

We're going back to basics in this week's round-up, with some familiar advice: it should come as no surprise that good records management equals good FOI practice; all-embracing requests for information are likely to be refused on the basis that they'd cost too much and, last but not least, the context surrounding a request must be taken into account when considering the public interest test.

Learning points:

  • Good records management = good FOI practice
    Decision 186/2017 shows what can go wrong when key records, such as meeting minutes and agendas, are not properly managed. This kind of information should be easily identifiable, if not already published. Here, it took many months and a long investigation to simply establish what information the authority held.
  • "Catch-all" requests may not succeed
    When an authority relies on "excessive costs" to refuse a request, we normally expect it to provide us with evidence that the cost estimate is reasonable, e.g. from a sampling exercise or a detailed cost breakdown. An exception was made in Decision 185/2017, where the request was so all-embracing that we accepted the cost limit would be reached very quickly without the need for robust evidence.
  • Commercial interests and the public interest test
    The "public interest test" requires authorities to consider "all the circumstances of the case." This will sometimes mean thinking about what information is already in the public domain. In Decision 184/2017, we found that it would not be in the public interest to require an authority to disclose information which would damage its commercial relationships. The fact that the authority had disclosed other information about the contract was a factor in reaching this conclusion.


Decisions issued:

  • Decision 183/2017 Hawa Hersi and Police Scotland
    Ms Hersi asked for information about crimes reported on video surveillance. We found that Police Scotland failed to respond to her request and request for review within the timescale allowed by the FOI Act.
  • Decision 184/2017 Jordanhill Community Council and Culture and Sport Glasgow (CSG)
    CSG was asked for contractual and operational information concerning Scotstoun Stadium, an athletics and rugby union stadium in the West End of Glasgow. CSG disclosed some information and withheld the rest.
    During our investigation, CSG changed its position and disclosed further information. We found that it was entitled to withhold the rest.
  • Decision 185/2017 Keith Banks and Police Scotland
    The request was for records of intelligence gathering and surveillance, and related procedures. Police Scotland told Mr Banks that they did not hold any of the information he had described.
    After investigation, we were satisfied that this was correct, or (depending on the interpretation of the request) that it would cost more than £600 to provide information.
  • Decision 186/2017 Mr X and Fife Council (the Council)
    Mr X asked for minutes and agendas of housing management group meetings. The Council eventually provided some information, but Mr X believed more was held. During our lengthy investigation, the Council identified and provided a significant number of documents. No information was identified for one meeting: the Council was unable to confirm whether it had gone ahead.
    We criticised the Council for the piecemeal way in which it had disclosed information which should have been readily available, and for its confusing response to the requester. We required the Council to issue a new review response in relation to one document which had been identified but was not disclosed.

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