The Borderlands: project update

Over the past year Professor John Mawson (St. Chad’s College, Durham University) and Dr David McGuinness (Northumbria University) have been exploring how far, from a leadership and management perspective, a £350 million regional development investment was secured for an area straddling the Anglo-Scottish border referred to as Borderlands. This case study is an input into a wider international Regional Studies Association seminar and research programme on cross border development.

The current case study is seeking to shed light on these issues through an analysis of management, networking and local and regional leadership processes. To date, interviews have taken place with relevant Council Leaders and senior officers, politicians from the different political parties, civil servants from the Scottish and UK Governments and other relevant stakeholders. Attention has focused on how partners were initially brought together, common aims were established, agreed place based narratives were developed, key projects and programmes were identified and common negotiating positions were established for engagement with civil servants and Ministers.

Research has also focused on how the Partnership mobilised the support of national politicians and Ministers in focusing on Borderlands as a funding priority and exercised a degree of influence over the content of the final deal. Clearly in drawing wider conclusions from s single case study there can be no single best practice approach given geographical, structural and temporal variations in specific situations, rather the research has been to identify key considerations and issues which need to be addressed and could potentially be tackled.

The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal is a negotiated agreement between two principal funders: the UK and Scottish Governments, and a local authority cross-border partnership. The Borderlands Partnership comprises: Dumfries and Galloway; Scottish Borders; Northumberland; Cumbria; and Carlisle councils. The Deal process was initially developed by the UK Government in England and transferred to Scotland in 2014, when it was gradually modified to accommodate the distinctive geography and policy priorities of the Scottish Government in the form of so called Inclusive Growth Deals.

The Borderlands Deal was one of the later versions and is unique in being the only rural cross border economic development programme in the UK. Covering the size of Wales with a population of around 1 million it comprises largely geographically dispersed market towns, former mining and industrial settlements, and coastal communities with a mix of agriculture, forestry, tourism, textile and other related industries.

This area suffers from an ageing population and a comparatively low skilled and poorly paid workforce. It experiences limited inward investment, new firm formation alongside pockets of severe deprivation in some towns and in Carlisle, the largest urban centre.

St. Chad’s research involvement in this policy issue began in 2012-13 when Fred Robinson and Jonathan Blackie, working with Keith Shaw (Northumbria University) and Frank Peck (Cumbria University) were commissioned to produce a report entitled: Borderlands: Can the North East and Cumbria Benefit from Greater Scottish Autonomy?

This provided an initial vehicle to foster collaboration between the 5 councils in developing a Borderlands Initiative and Partnership with the objective of securing for the first time, some long-term and large-scale regional development funding. The research was highlighted by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee and ultimately led to a successful funding proposal in 2021.

The formal process of negotiating the Deal with government departments and Ministers took over four years but when taking into account initial research, partnership building, strategy development and lobbying, nearly a decade. This challenge of developing cross border regional development in rural and more peripheral regions involving alignment of different geographical and funding arrangements is of increasing interest both in the academic world and in the fields of policy and practice.

Interim findings have been presented at two RSA national conferences in Newcastle and London with the aim being to produce a final report next summer once a further round of interviews have been completed.