Response sent: October 2010

Request:

Under the Freedom of Information Act please could you provide me with copies of internal documents -  including emails, memos, presentations etc etc - written by senior staff since January 1st 2010 which are on the subject of the expected impact on your organisation of the anticipated reduction in Government spending in the arts sector.

In particular, I would be grateful if you could provide any documents in which your organisation has drawn up plans to meet the likely impact of any significant reduction in Government spending.

Outcome:

Unsuccessful

Response:

Although we hold very little information in relation to this request, I can confirm that all of the information we hold is covered by the exemption at section 35 of the FOI Act - formulation of government policy. Section 35(1)(a) exempts information where it relates to the formulation or development of government policy. As the Spending Review is a government policy in itself, information relating to advice on this policy is exempt under this section of the Act. 

Section 35 is a qualified exemption and we are required to conduct a public interest balancing test to consider whether it is in the public interest to release the information you have requested. The balance to be considered when using this exemption is the public interest in disclosure of information about the process of government policy formulation, versus the public interest in ensuring that there is a space within which ministers and officials can discuss policy options and delivery, freely and frankly.

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. Furthermore, the impact on public spending obviously increases the public interest in the decision-making process and its transparency. Please visit our transparency pages.

However, good government depends on good decision making and this needs to be based on the best advice available, full consideration of all the options, and frank discussion and debate without fear of premature disclosure. Release of information of this type may also have a deterrent effect on officials and external experts who might be reluctant to provide advice or get into policy discussion because it might be disclosed.  Moreover, the impartiality of the civil service would be undermined if advice and discussion was routinely made public as there is a risk that officials could come under political pressure not to challenge ideas in the formulation of policy, thus leading to poorer decision-making

As a result of these considerations we have determined that the public interest lies in non-disclosure of the information in this case. Further information on this exemption can be found at: http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/freedom_of_information/detailed_specialist_guides/formulationofgovernmentpolicy.pdf

However, I can confirm that 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 our website.