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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 05 to 16 March 2018

This round-up features learning points from decision notices issued in the last two weeks and takes a closer look at the cases resolved in February.

From the decisions issued we consider: factors that can lead to a request being deemed vexatious; the sensitivity of live tender information and the importance of checking whether the information is held before responding to a request.

In addition to the decisions issued, we resolved seven cases in February. Find out how in this week's round-up.

Learning points:

 

  • Live tender information is likely to be sensitive
    Although information relating to contracts and tenders has often been disclosed, this is sometimes possible only when the passage of time or other factors have reduced the sensitivity of the information. Decision 031/2018 found that a request for information relating to a current tender was correctly withheld: disclosure of price details would give tenderers an advantage in setting their prices, and prevent truly "blind" bidding.

  • Authorities should check whether information is held before responding
    This is a regular learning point. The first step in responding to a request should be to establish whether any information is held. As in Decision 029/2018, it's surprising how often authorities assume that they hold information and later, after checking, find that they don't.

 

  • "Vexatiousness" is sometimes due to previous correspondence
    Sometimes a request can appear uncontroversial but, when viewed in light of what has gone before, it can be deemed vexatious. If there has been a lengthy correspondence on the same, or closely-related, issues and there's no obvious reason why previous replies should not stand, then a new request may be vexatious even though it appears straightforward. Decision 028/2018 looks at such a case.

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 023/2018 Graham Keith and Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)
    OSCR was asked for correspondence relating to a complaint made about a charitable trust. OSCR withheld some information on the basis that disclosure would substantially prejudice its ability to perform its functions to supervise charities. We agreed that the information could be withheld on this basis.

 

  • Decision 024/2018 Daniel Henderson and North Lanarkshire Council
    The Council was asked for the names and professions of staff of an external organisation contracted to conduct peer reviews on land contamination reports. The Council withheld the names on the basis that disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act. It also told Mr Henderson it didn't hold details of the individuals' professions. Following an investigation, we accepted the Council's position.

 

  • Decision 025/2018 Tracy Wright and Falkirk Council
    The Council was asked about its definition of "anti-social behaviour". It disclosed some information, but Ms Wright believed more was held. We were satisfied that the Council had carried out appropriate searches and had disclosed all relevant information.

 

  • Decision 026/2018 Albert Cruickshank and Scottish Borders Council
    Mr Cruickshank asked for information about traffic calming measures, which the Council provided, and a list of the Road Safety Team members, which the Council withheld. After investigation, during which the Council disclosed the name of a manager from the Team, we accepted that the remaining personal data had been correctly withheld.

 

  • Decision 027/2018 James Boyle and Police Scotland
    Mr Boyle asked for information concerning an alleged criminal complaint made to Police Scotland by specified individuals. Police Scotland refused to confirm or deny whether the information existed or was held by them. We accepted that it would not be in the public interest for Police Scotland to reveal whether the information existed or was held.

 

  • Decision 028/2018 Ms X and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE)
    HIE was asked for minutes of meetings of discussions and agreements about the Achiltibuie Hydroponicum HIE grant obligation. HIE considered the request to be vexatious, because of the history of correspondence with Ms X. Following an investigation, we agreed that the request was vexatious.

 

  • Decision 029/2018 Jacqueline Carter Brown and West Lothian Council
    Ms Carter Brown asked for statistics about children and young people referred to the Council's counselling service. The Council disclosed some information but said it would cost over £600 to provide some other statistics. It also told Ms Carter Brown it didn't hold figures for one part of the request.

    We found that the Council failed to give notice that it did not hold any of the other statistics.

 

  • Decision 030/2018 Dr X and Tayside Health Board (NHS Tayside)
    NHS Tayside was asked about accommodation for junior doctors working more than 60 hours, and about delays in approving expenses claims. Initially, NHS Tayside did not regard this as an information request, but following an appeal to us, it disclosed some information.

    After investigation, we accepted that no more information was held, but found that NHS Tayside had failed to respond to the request in line with the FOI Act.

 

  • Decision 031/2018 Edward Rattray and Renfrewshire Council
    Mr Rattray asked about a tender organised by Scotland Excel, a joint committee of all Scottish local authorities. The Council withheld some information which it believed would damage the commercial interests of Scotland Excel and the tenderers.

    We agreed that the information was exempt from disclosure, as disclosure would undermine the effectiveness of the tendering framework.

 

  • Decision 033/2018 Robert Coull and the Scottish Ambulance Service Board (SASB)
    Dr Coull asked for the minutes of the British Association for Immediate Care Scotland (BASICS) SAS National Group meetings from 2017. We found that the SASB failed to respond to his request for review within the required timescale and ordered it to provide a review response.

 

  • Decision 034/2018 Robert Coull and the Scottish Ambulance Service Board (SASB)
    Dr Coull asked for a legal opinion on the use of blue lights by BASICS responders. We found that the SASB failed to respond to his request for review within the required timescale and ordered it to provide a review response.

Resolved cases

 

We resolved seven cases in February without the need for a formal decision.

 

  • In two cases, the requesters were happy to withdraw after the authorities disclosed some information during our investigation.

 

  • In one case, the public authority decided the withheld information was the requester's own personal data and disclosed it under the Data Protection Act. The requester was happy with this and withdrew their appeal.

 

  • In one case, the public authority accepted that it should have responded to the request under the Environmental Information Regulations. After it had done so, disclosing most of the information the requester had asked for, the requester was happy to withdraw.

 

  • In one case, we decided we couldn't investigate the issues the requester was really concerned about as these weren't connected to FOI. We explained this to the requester and they decided not to continue with their appeal.

 

  • In one case, we identified technical issues which suggested that the requester would be better advised to make a new request for some information and a new request for review for another part of their request. The requester accepted this advice and the case was closed.

 

  • In the final case, the requester decided not to continue with their appeal.

 

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