Northumberland chiefs approve costs for Borderlands deal which will unlock £350million funding

Councillors in Northumberland have agreed the operating costs for the Borderlands deal – ‘a small price to pay’ for £350million of funding.

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 3:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 10:23 am

The heads of terms agreement for the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal was announced on July 1 and confirmed a commitment by the UK and Scottish Governments for the financial package, with £200million to be invested on the English side and £150million in Scotland on a variety of projects over 10 years.

The Borderlands Partnership area is made up of Northumberland County Council, Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council, which represents 10% of the UK’s land mass and an area larger than Wales.

However, the heads of terms agreement was not a legally binding document, so as part of getting the full deal signed off, the county council’s cabinet agreed the governance arrangements, which include Northumberland acting as the accountable body for the English side, at its meeting on Tuesday (November 12).

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Members also agreed to fund the county’s share of the operating costs after the partnership board agreed an initial annual operating budget of £531,000.

Northumberland’s first contribution will be £118,000 (£14,000 this year and £104,000 in 2020-21), which represents 22.2% of the total.

Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, told Monday’s (November 11) meeting of the corporate services committee that this figure could increase in future years, but added: “In my opinion, that’s money extremely well spent, because we will benefit massively from this deal.”

The split of the operating costs relates to how much of the funding each authority area is expected to receive, meaning an initial indication of about £70milllion for the county.

However, three of the four projects already revealed under the Destination Borderlands theme are in Northumberland – Berwick Theatre and Conference Centre, The Alnwick Garden’s Lilidorei and Hadrian’s Wall, with the fourth being a cross-area Borderlands Walking and Cycling Network.

Plus, Janice Rose, the council’s head of economy and regeneration, said that the key will be having projects and business cases ready in case of any slack in the English budget.

Other funding areas include quality of place, digital, business infrastructure, rural innovation and energy, with an economic forum to be set up to ‘to provide an opportunity for wider stakeholders – with a particular focus on economic development agencies and the business community (including social enterprises) – to contribute’.

Approving the next steps, which also includes Northumberland being the host authority for the four members of staff to be recruited to the programme management office, cabinet members sang the praises of the Borderlands deal.

Coun Glen Sanderson said: “I would like to say how fantastic this is. A few years ago, we would not have believed that we would have had the doors opened for funding of this size, working across borders which are after all just lines on the map.”

Coun Cath Homer added: “It’s an incredible investment in the Borderlands regional area and a great opportunity for Northumberland.

“We should acknowledge how much work has gone into this already on the deal and some of the business cases.”

Coun Wayne Daley said: “There’s £200million for the English side and our officers have been instrumental in making sure we get our fair share. It’s a very good deal indeed.”

On the operating costs, he added: “It’s not so much invest to save, it’s invest to turbo-charge our communities.”

There was only one note of caution expressed and that was at the corporate services committee meeting, where Coun Gregah Roughead raised concerns that it was a ‘flexible governance model but quite weak in terms of oversight’.

However, it was explained that two accountable bodies are required due to the different legal systems in England and Scotland.

Decisions on funding for projects will be made by the partnership board, made up of the five council leaders and the chairman of the economic forum, while additional oversight will be provided by the Scottish City Region and Growth Deal Delivery Board.