Shaping the future of the Borderlands

Over the past decade, Policy&Practice academics at St Chad’s Colhalflege have been closely involved with strategy debates on how to support economic and social development in the Anglo-Scottish Border. 

This initiative was stimulated by awareness on both sides of the border of shared opportunities arising from the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999. Subsequently, the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 led to the Scottish government gaining new powers. This presented new challenges for politicians and business leaders in the North East of England and Cumbria who felt there may be detrimental consequences for their regions.

The Anglo-Scottish Border has, until recently, been a neglected area of British public policy. Yet it comprises 10 per cent of the UK’s land mass and has a population of over 1 million people. It comprises five local authorities: Dumfries and Galloway; Scottish Borders; Northumberland; Cumbria; and Carlisle Councils (soon to become Cumberland Council).

With a shared history and cultural identity, the area is largely rural with dispersed market towns and isolated former industrial communities connected by cross-border transport links. Low rates of firm formation, low pay, outmigration, an ageing population, transport accessibility and poor broadband connectivity in the Borderlands produce policy challenges.

Policy&Practice’s involvement preceded the Scottish Independence Referendum when, in 2012, the Association of North East Councils requested the Institute for Local Governance (ILG) to commission a new study: Borderlands: can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?[1] 

The ILG, led by Professor John Mawson was a North East-wide public sector research and knowledge exchange partnership established to access the expertise of the region’s five Universities. It commissioned Professors Keith Shaw of Northumbria University and Fred Robinson and Jonathan Blackie of St Chad’s College to undertake the work.

Highlighting the economic, social and environmental opportunities of cross-border collaboration the report was instrumental in the establishment of the Borderlands Partnership between the five councils. In turn it led to the commissioning by the ILG of a further report in 2015 entitled Developing the framework for a Borderlands strategy[2] on behalf of the Partnership. This work was undertaken by Professors Jonathan Blackie, St Chad’s College, Durham University; Keith Shaw, Northumbria and Frank Peck, Cumbria Universities and involved ongoing support to the Partnership Steering Group. 

The programme of work’s value was highlighted in the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee report Our Borderlands – Our Future in March 2015.[3]  The initiative was praised by First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Ultimately this led to the Conservative Party’s election manifesto commitment to “bring forward a Borderlands Growth Deal including all Councils on both sides of the border to help secure prosperity…” in 2017. The deal was signed by the two governments and partnership representatives in 2021.[4]   

The partnership is now responsible for the management and implementation of this cross-border integrated programme. Worth over £350million pounds, its aim is to deliver 5,500 jobs, expand tourism and other rural industries, improve public transport and ensure a strong place-based dimension.

In the next stage of this research and consultancy programme, Professor Mawson, now based at St Chad’s College as a professorial fellow in Policy&Practice, together with colleagues from Northumbria University, will be exploring leadership and governance issues surrounding the emergence of the Inclusive Growth Deal and Partnership. 

This work will form part of a two-year international research and seminar programme on the development of international cross-border partnerships supported by the Regional Studies Association.

For other news stories on the Borderlands, see: Strengthening the wellbeing of market towns in the borderlands.

[1] Shaw, K., Blackie, J., Robinson, F., and Henderson G. 2013.  Borderlands: Can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?  Universities of Northumbria, Durham and IPPR North.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of the Association of North East Councils. Available here

[2] Shaw, K., Peck, F., Mulvay, G., Jackson, K. and Blackie, J, 2015. Developing the Framework for a Borderland Strategy  Northumbria and Cumbria Universities.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of Northumberland County Council. Available here

[3] House of Commons 2015.  Our Borderlands – Our Future.  Final Report.  Scottish Affairs Committee.  Sixth Report of the Session 2014-15. Available here

[4] The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.  March 2021.  Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council. Available here