Response sent: February 2011

Request:

In relation to the Coalition Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, please provide me with:

1. All documents - including emails - submitted by your organisation to central government departments and/or government ministers, as part of the Coalition Government's Comprehensive Spending Review since 12 May. This would include any letters, briefings or option papers prepared by your organisation outlining the impact that changes and/or reductions to its budget(s) may have on the service(s) you deliver.

2. All documents - including emails - submitted by your organisation to central government departments or government ministers, as part of the Coalition Government's Public Bodies Review since 12 May. This would also include any letters, briefings or option papers prepared by your organisation outlining the impact that reform or abolition would have on the services you deliver.

3. Any revised business, explanatory papers, options papers or letters submitted by your organisation (including electronic communications) to central government departments or government ministers to accommodate changes to your organisation's budgets following the Comprehensive Spending review.

4. Any revised business, explanatory papers, options papers or letters submitted by your organisation (including electronic communications) to central government departments or government ministers to accommodate changes to your organisation's structure following the Public Bodies Review.

5. Any further correspondence (i) received by your organisation directly from ministers, or their offices, and (ii) sent to ministers, or their offices, regarding the affect of the (A) Comprehensive Spending Review and (B) Public Bodies Review on your organisation. This would also include any written or electronic correspondence that details the process your organisation should follow in order to make such submissions to these reviews.

Outcome:

Unsuccessful

Response:

The National Archives holds information within the scope of your request outlined above. Following the public interest test, it has been determined that all this information is exempt from disclosure under Section 36(2)(b) - Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs.

When a qualified exemption is applied we are obliged to conduct a public interest test to consider whether the balance of the public interest lies in favour of maintaining the exemption or in favour of release. All the information requested has been considered and judged to be exempt information under section 36(2)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act -

36(2)(b) 'would or would be likely to, inhibit -

(i) The free and frank provision of advice, or
(ii) The free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation'

The balance of the public interest assesses whether the interests of the public are best served by disclosure or non disclosure of the requested information. The balance to be considered when using this exemption is the public interest in ensuring that there is a space, within which officials and Ministers can discuss policy options and delivery, freely and frankly.

It has been determined; following the public interest test that disclosure would be prejudicial to the provision of free and frank advice and the free and frank exchange of views. 

The issues we have considered are outlined below:

Arguments in Favour of Disclosure - Section 36(2)(b):

  • There is a general public interest in openness, including accountability and transparency.
  • It is of benefit to the public to know and understand what informs decisions of the government and that these decisions have been taken fairly, through a considered process.
  • Thus it is arguable that disclosure of the information in question may lead to a greater understanding of the decision making process. In this instance decision was taken relating to the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Public Bodies Review.

Arguments Against Disclosure - Section 36(2)(b):

  • The information discusses sensitive policy and we have balanced the need to protect the space for our officials and Ministers to discuss and consider process and policy issues in an open and frank way. 
  • If it were to be revealed publicly, the nature of those discussions may be affected.  It might deter officials from raising radical or controversial options and having free and frank discussions about all available possibilities in relation to any given policy or approach to implementation.
  • In order to be able to seek further views and discuss options there has to be the space to do so, so that we can freely weigh up the risks and consequences of such decisions. Premature release of information may discourage the frank exchange of views. Thus there still exists a strong public interest in protecting this private space.

Conclusion:

The requirements of openness must be balanced against the proper and effective functioning of government. Having considered all the relevant arguments, our view is that the balance of the public interest favours maintaining the exemption and withholding the information under Section 36(2)(b) of the FOI Act at this current time.

We have already published details of our settlement under the Comprehensive Spending Review and our position following the Public Bodies Review. Download the documents at the bottom of the page for more details.

Further information:

It is acknowledged that greater transparency makes government more accountable to the electorate and increases trust as public knowledge of the way government works increases.  The impact on public spending obviously increases the public interest in the decision-making process and its transparency.  Please visit our transparency pages.

Under the Public Services Transparency Framework, any impact of the spending review on the work of The National Archives or on our published business plans will be communicated to our users and published on the Our plans section of the website.

CEO's presentation - Our CSR response (PDF, 0.27Mb)

The National Archives user forum minutes - Thursday 21 October 2010 (PDF, 0.03Mb)

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