Details of the SNP Research Team
IPSA holds some of the information that you have requested.
Under the terms of the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’), MPs can claim the costs of payments for pooled staffing services, which provide research, briefing and drafting services to groups of MPs. There are currently five such services which have an arrangement in place with IPSA:
the Parliamentary Research Service (for Labour MPs);
the Policy Research Unit (for Conservative MPs);
the Scottish National Party Research Team (for SNP MPs);
the Parliamentary Support Team (for Liberal Democrat MPs) and
the European Research Group (ERG), which provides briefings to Conservative MPs on issues relating to the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
As part of our core regulatory function, and to assure both ourselves and the public that public funds claimed are in accordance with the Scheme, we conduct regular assurance reviews on different areas of spending, including that related to pooled staffing services.
We last conducted such a review in 2016, the report of which is available on our website. As part of the assurance review we examined all expenditure claimed by MPs relating to such services; reviewed the governance and operations of each service, and scrutinised examples of output material. We are currently in the very early stages of preparing the 2019/20 assurance review. When completed, the new report will be published on our website.
A) All accounts and invoices submitted that cover the £0.6m
Details of claims submitted by individual MPs as part of their business costs, including subscription fees, are published on the IPSA website. Using the drop-down menu at the top of the page, you can select a financial year alongside the option for ‘individual claims’. This will open a spreadsheet containing all individual claims made that financial year. You can filter on ‘Expense type’, ‘Details’ for ‘SNP Group' or ‘Short description’ to identify relevant claims. This will provide you with the names of all MPs who have made claims for subscriptions to the SNP Research Team in each financial year, alongside the total amount paid.
As you will see from the published list of claims, subscription fees were paid directly to the SNP Research Team as the supplier of the service. IPSA does not hold invoices from individual MPs in respect of their subscriptions.
Copies of the mandates from individual MPS and the invoice from the SNP Research Team from 2015 when the group was established to September 2019 have been provided with this response.
Please note that we have redacted some information from the mandates and invoices in accordance with section 31 (Law enforcement) and section 40 (Personal data) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Further information on both these exemptions can be found below.
Section 31 – Law Enforcement
Information relating to:
Personal bank account numbers
Other sensitive financial information
This information has been withheld under section 31(1)(a) (Law enforcement) of the FOIA. This section of the Act states that information is exempt if its disclosure under the FOIA would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention (or detection) or crime.
After considering the nature of the withheld information it is our opinion that were a disclosure to be made into the public domain it is probable that this information could be traced back to sensitive personal or commercial information which could be used for criminal activity. Although we recognise the public interest in transparency surrounding the publishing of information relating to MPs’ expenses, there is also a strong public interest in ensuring that we are able to protect our service users from the threat of being subjected to criminal activity.
In our opinion the public interest in protecting the security of MPs and their property outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
Section 40 – Personal data
Some of the invoice details relate to third parties and are ‘personal data’ as defined by data protection law. As such, we are unable to disclose this information. Section 40(2) of the FOIA provides that personal information about third parties is exempt information if disclosure would breach the fair processing principle, Article 5(10(a) of the General Data Protection Regulation, where it would be unfair to those persons or is confidential.
We do not consider it within the reasonable expectations of third-party suppliers that their address details would be disclosed. As such, we do not consider that disclosure of address information would be fair, and are obliged to withhold it from disclosure under section 40(2) of the FOIA.
This part of the section 40 exemption is an absolute exemption, and so no consideration of public interest arguments for and against disclosure is required.
B) How many staff are employed by the SNP Research Team.
According to the most recent information held by IPSA published in the assurance review, in 2016 the SNP Research Team comprised 14 full-time staff, including a Head of Research, a Deputy Head, five senior researchers and seven junior researchers.
C) Where these funds are paid?
The amount quoted of approximately £0.6 million comprises the total sum of individual subscriptions from the 54 SNP MPs who each pay an annual subscription of £10,500 to the Research Team.
Payments to pooled services such as the Research Team may be claimed in two ways:
IPSA can pay subscription fees directly to the service, or
a reimbursement claim can be submitted to IPSA’s online expenses system.
IPSA has an agreed arrangement in place to pay subscriptions directly to the SNP Research Team.
D) How these funds are kept separate from the SNP's other moneys
IPSA does not hold this information.
E) All correspondence concerning A to D above between IPSA and the SNP.
The correspondence you have requested accompanies this response. This correspondence related to the assurance review mentioned in your request. Please let me know if you would also like copies of any routine administrative mail associated with the invoices, for example, acknowledgements.
We have withheld some information from this correspondence in accordance with s.40 FOIA (Personal Information).
Section 40 – Personal information
Information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person is ‘personal data’, as defined by the General Data Protection Principle (GDPR). Section 40(2) of the FOIA provides that personal information is exempt information if:
(a) it constitutes personal data; and
(b) the condition set out in s.40(3A)(a) of FOIA is satisfied, namely that disclosure to a member of the public would contravene any of the data protection principles in the GDPR.
In our view (a) is satisfied because the information sought by you relates to an identifiable, living individual, and (b) is also satisfied because disclosure would breach the first data protection principle in Article 5(1)(a) of the GDPR, which requires that personal information is processed fairly, lawfully and in a transparent manner; processing includes disclosure. In relation to fairness, IPSA is required to process personal data in a manner in which people would reasonably expect.
We do not consider it within the reasonable expectations of individuals engaged in or named in the correspondence, that their personal information would be disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, which is deemed to be disclosure to the world at large.
As such, we are obliged to withhold the information from disclosure under section 40(2) of the FOIA.
This part of the section 40 exemption is an absolute exemption and so no consideration of public interest arguments for and against disclosure is required.
This concludes our response to your request.
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- September 27, 2019
- GENERAL EXPENSES ENQUIRY
- Exemptions Applied:
- Section 31, Section 40