The Borderlands Partnership, comprising five local authorities on the border of England and Scotland, secured an innovative growth deal with the UK and Scottish Governments: the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal. The Deal will bring in up to £452m of fresh investment to support inclusive and sustainable growth across the Borderlands region and is anticipated to boost the region’s economy by £1.1 billion and create 5,500 additional job opportunities. It is the cross-border growth Deal in the UK.
The Borderlands Partnership was formed because it felt “natural” for those local authorities to come together. From a geographic perspective, the Borderlands is a huge, mainly rural, region larger in size than Wales. It has a population of around 1.1 million people and is within 2 hours drive time of 14 million people across the cities of the central belt of Scotland and the northern English cities. Facing shared challenges and opportunities it made sense for the local authorities to work together more strategically; however existing administrative boundaries and different legal frameworks and policy contents didn’t support such activities due to the north/south England/Scotland border and east/west regional structures in England.
The Partnership is addressing the shared challenges of the region to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth through the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal (the Deal). The challenges include lack of full digital connectivity; high employment in low-wage industries and difficulties travelling within the region (even though transport links to the region from major cities in Scotland and England are generally good). The three key challenges which will be directly addressed by the Deal are:
• Narrowing the productivity gap
• Increasing the working age population
• Delivering inclusive growth, by addressing digital exclusion; the earnings gap and access to quality jobs and access to education
There was also a sense that the Borderlands region was not high on central government’s list of priority areas for funding, and the region risked missing out on opportunities and investment if the local authorities did not take action. All these factors helped bring the local authorities together as a formal partnership and jointly develop a strategy.
There was strong political support for the Borderlands partnership. One of the partnership’s keys to success is that politicians of all parties – Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP – saw its work as positive for the region. The initial proposition of the Partnership was accepted and encouraged by both the UK and the Scottish Government.
The Deal is a unique rural deal, both in content and development. The UK and Scottish Governments took a “co-development approach” to the Deal, meaning that they worked with the Borderlands Partnership to populate the deal with projects and programmes in a way which could draw in funding from multiple, complementary sources and meet the nuanced policy differences in England and Scotland. In content, the Deal is unique because of its mixture of projects and programmes and complementary funding mix from UK Government departments and Scottish Government. This was required to ensure similar activities occurred in England and Scotland whether this was a matter devolved to the Scottish Government or retained by the UK Government.
The nature of the Borderlands also challenges preconceptions around scale of interventions with activities such as the Place Programme emphasising the need for smaller-scale, locally owned investments within the larger scale ‘programme’ of investment. This can achieve significant impact but in a way which is difficult to capture in traditional value for money/impact measures and KPIs.
The Partnership set up (and still maintains and chairs) a liaison group with the UK and Scottish Governments, embedding the co-development approach into delivery of the Deal. This will continue to respond to emerging challenges in delivery and develop solutions as required throughout the lifetime of the Deal
The Partnership has not been without challenges. As a cross-border partnership, balancing the priorities of the UK and Scottish Governments has required diplomacy and consensus from all sides, but this has been greatly assisted by the liaison group and the strong political support behind the partnership and deal. Resources are also a challenge as the partner local authorities are generally small and rural, so they do not have large budgets to fall back on.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Borderlands Deal is innovative because it:
• is the first cross-border Growth Deal in the UK and operates in the distinct legal frameworks of England and Scotland resulting in a unique collaboration agreement
• is the first Deal to operate in both the policy contexts of the UK and Scottish Governments across retained and devolved matters.
• draws attention to the opportunities and challenges in rural economies in achieving inclusive and sustainable growth and bring significant resources to address these
• enables local authorities with shared interest to work together in a new way beyond the national and regional administrative boundaries to achieve common goals
• is focused on supporting broad socio-economic goals through a growth deal, recognising the value of a strategic, interlinked approach across environmental and social factors
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal was signed on 18 March 2021, during an online event attended by both the UK and Scottish Governments, and the local partners. The Deal is now moving to delivery phase, with a small number of projects already in delivery, thanks to the release of early funding. The Programme Management Office is developing the Benefits Realisation plan to monitor and evaluate the success of the Deal. This includes a unique baseline tool to measure progress against economic, sustainable growth and inclusive growth across the region to see the impact of the Deal. Work continues with both governments to progress project business cases to sign off and into delivery. The Partnership Board, which oversees the Deal, will welcome its newest member, the Chair of the Borderlands Economic Forum, at their next meeting in June. The Economic Forum brings in private sector experience and expertise from across the region to support and help develop the work of the Partnership.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Five local authorities: Carlisle City Council; Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Northumberland Country Council and Scottish Borders Council, bringing expertise in economic development. The Partnership Board is the Leaders of each Council plus the Chair of the Borderlands Economic Forum. The Forum brings private sector expertise from across the region to the Partnership. Other key partners are officials from the UK and Scottish Government and the Deal project partners.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Over 1 million people live across the Borderlands and the Deal will provide lasting benefits: improving transport links and broadband connections, supporting schemes to provide clean, cheap energy, and helping develop skills and create more, better paid jobs.
It will stimulate business growth to create a more diverse economy with innovation and skills projects
Destination Borderlands projects will encourage visitors to extend their stay, spend more and visit more places across the region.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The Borderlands Partnership was set up in 2014 and culminated in the signing of the Deal in March 2021. £30million of funding was granted before the signing of the Deal, for projects at a more advanced stage, a testament to the strength of the Partnership and their project partners, as well as the trust and understanding of the Deal and its aims by the officials in both the UK and Scottish Governments.
The existing strong governance arrangements are being further strengthened by the new Programme Management Office and will include a benefits realisation plan, programme handbook and delivery of the governance arrangements through the Programme Board and Economic Forum. This will set strong foundations for delivery of the projects and programmes as well as a deep understanding of the impacts of the Deal across the region and inform the future work of the Partnership.
Challenges and Failures
As a cross-border partnership, balancing the priorities of the UK and Scottish Governments has required diplomacy and consensus from all sides, but this has been assisted by the liason group. Resources are also a challenge as the partner local authorities are generally small and rural, so they do not have large budgets to fall back on.
COVID-19 has been disruptive and brought challenges. One of the partnership’s key tasks has been to put the Borderlands on other people’s radar, which is difficult when all government departments have by necessity been focused on the pandemic. It has also brought resource challenges to the local partners in getting the Deal ready to be signed. The Partnership has, however, set up its governance, including a new Project Management Office, so it is relaying messages to both governments that the Borderlands Partnership is ready to deliver and support recovery efforts but also to address the longer terms challenges and opportunities of the region.
Conditions for Success
There was strong political support for the Borderlands partnership, from politicians of all parties – Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP – who saw its work as positive for the region.
Key factors behind the success of the partnership were: a shared understanding of commonalities; every part of the region “got something out of it”; and the maturity of partners to understand the ‘bigger issues’ and to agree on shared approaches across the whole region when developing the initial proposition right through to developing the final Deal ready for signing. There was also early appreciation of the need for a strong governance framework, including a collaboration agreement.
The Borderlands Partnership has developed a unique, cross border Deal across a large rural area. Its approach and the strategic nature of the Deal is one that could be replicated by other similar regions in the UK. The Deal is an integrated investment package that meets the needs and opportunities of the rural nature of the region. The strategic approach includes five high profile projects which anchor the Deal and will have a transformational impact on their area as well as the wider regional economy. Their strategic nature means they are cross-cutting in their impact and in many instances contribute to all four strategic themes. Equally important are the Borderlands-wide investment programmes that will ensure benefits can be realised across the whole of the Borderlands region. Other Deals in development are looking at the approach to see how they can learn from it.
- Develop a strong core team, with as flat a structure as possible, to drive the partnership.
- Maintain momentum – the deadline to sign the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal was really helpful to focus minds.
- Work closely with Government departments. Put in the hard work – the partnership set up a liaison group with Government officials at an early stage which has been maintained through development and now into delivery.
- Demonstrate you are a trustworthy partner by meeting your deadlines and be patient if the Government is slightly slower to meet theirs.
- To local authorities in rural areas: don’t expect or wait for the Government to come to you with ideas. Develop clear and workable proposals and go to them. It is more challenging for rural areas to secure deals than for large city regions because the impact of rural deals is more difficult to quantify in the Treasury’s Green Book processes. But the Borderlands Deal signing demonstrates it can be achieved.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
13 September 2021