Decisions Round-up: 29 March to 1 April 2016

This week's Round-up includes our first decision under the INSPIRE (Scotland) Regulations. Has your authority made arrangements for spatial datasets to be publicly accessible and available? Read more about the implementation plan we agreed with the authority and our recommendations below.

Key messages:

  • INSPIRE - are you complying?
    Decision 070/2016 is our first decision under the INSPIRE (Scotland) Regulations 2009. We found the public authority had not, as it is required to do, made arrangements for the spatial datasets it holds to be publicly accessible and available. We agreed an implementation plan with the authority, to give it time to make the necessary arrangements in order to comply with INSPIRE. We recommend the authority publishes this plan, and that other authorities in a similar situation should also publish their plans.
  • Check whether some of the information can be provided
    It's important to avoid applying a "blanket" exemption to information: authorities need to be sure that the exemption applies to all of the information they are withholding. In two cases this week (Decision 068/2016 and Decision 069/2016), we found part of the withheld information was not covered by the exemption relied on.
  • Exemptions can't be applied to information that's not held
    It sounds obvious, but this issue seems to crop up quite often. Authorities should only consider whether exemptions apply after they've established they hold the requested information. If they don't hold the information, there is no need to apply an exemption - doing so is confusing for requesters. Decision 072/2016 involves a case where this happened.
  • Good records management pays off
    If you keep on top of records management, it can make it much easier to establish whether you still hold information covered by a request. In Decision 073/2016, the authority was able to show that information had been destroyed by the time a request was received.
  • Critical comment from an applicant doesn't make a request vexatious
    In Decision 074/2016, we criticised the tone of some communications from the public authority to the requester. The requester had posted comments on his website about way the authority had handled his requests. In its review outcome, the authority challenged these comments in a somewhat confrontational manner. This was not helpful in the circumstances. The decision discusses what should, or shouldn't, be considered as having a harassing effect on an authority, and when this might tip over into vexatiousness.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 068/2016 Andrew Picken and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Picken asked for communications between the Permanent Secretary and the former First Minister, concerning Mr Salmond's book "The Dream Shall Never Die". The information was withheld under the "substantial prejudice to public affairs" exemption. After investigation, we found some of the information should have been provided.
  • Decision 069/2016 Bill Chisholm and Scottish Borders Council
    Mr Chisholm wanted information about a site visit which Councillors had made to a plant operated by a waste management company. The Council provided some information but withheld information which it considered to be commercially confidential under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004. We accepted some of the information was correctly withheld, but found that the exception did not apply to other information. We ordered the Council to provide it to Mr Chisholm.
  • Decision 070/2016 Iain Lawrie and Aberdeenshire Council
    Mr Lawrie asked the Council for a list of the datasets available to download under the INSPIRE (Scotland) Regulations 2009. The Council told him the information was available from the websites of external agencies.

    After investigation, we found that the Council had acted in a way which was incompatible with regulation 8 of INSPIRE, because it did not have adequate services in place to allow the public to discover, view and download the spatial data it held. We required the Council to ensure spatial data is publicly accessible and available by 31 January 2017.
  • Decision 071/2016 Mr B and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Mr B asked for information about a planning application. He did not receive a response to his request or his request for review. We required the Council to provide a response.
  • Decision 072/2016 Paul Delamore and Grampian Health Board
    Mr Delamore asked for information about the death of Mr Willie McRae. The Health Board told him that it did not hold the information. After investigation, we accepted this, but we found that the Health Board hadn't replied to Mr Delamore's request for review within the timescales in the FOI Act.
  • Decision 073/2016 Alastair Tibbitt and Aberdeen City Council
    The Council told Mr Tibbitt that it did not have any information relating to the "Prevent" duty guidance for Scotland (guidance on keeping people and communities safe from the threat of terrorism). After an investigation, we accepted that the information had already been destroyed by the time the request was made.
  • Decision 074/2016 Mark Irvine and North Lanarkshire Council
    Mr Irvine asked for information relating to exit packages and the remuneration of its Chief Executive. The Council considered the requests to be vexatious.

    Following an investigation, we weren't satisfied that the Council had shown the requests were vexatious. We required the Council to respond to Mr Irvine's requirement for review in different terms.

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