The recently released Understanding stakeholder engagement and collaboration in Scotland’s City Region Deals report undertaken by Dr Stephen Knox and Professor Norin Arshed advocates for the importance of local collaborative government and wider stakeholder policy engagement. The importance of championing regional development by directing significant investment into the hands of regional and local policy actors is key to flourishing regions. In Scotland, City Region Deals have been introduced to ensure there is a level playing field across regional development in the country and the report highlights the effective partnerships and challenges faced by the efforts of the City Region Deals.
The importance of Scotland’s Deals which works across local authorities, the devolved Scottish Government and the UK Government focusses on funding infrastructure and interventions to promote welfare, connectivity, innovation, and enterprise development. This prompted Stephen and Norin to explore how effective these partnerships are by undertaking an in-depth exploration of the City Region Deals in Scotland. This research included conducting six in-depth case studies of the City Region Deal areas in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Tay Cities, Inverness and Stirling). For each case study, semi-structured interviews (with national government, local government and private and third sector enterprise support organisations) were undertaken along with analysing documents related to the Deals. The case studies were conducted in two different phases. In the first phase between 2018-2020 the Glasgow, Tay Cities and Stirling cases were completed. In the second phase, between 2022-2023 following the COVID-19 pandemic cases the data collection for Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness was completed. The range of case studies allowed us to compare and contrast the homogenous and heterogonous elements of each region, to understand the challenges they faced, and the projects being delivered.
The findings uncovered similarities and differences present within and across regions allowing us to identify a guiding framework that arose after exploring the six cases. Our framework can help embed effective collaborative governance practices into future opportunities where three capabilities, the assurances and affordance that they provide, and the organising practices can help facilitate their development. The first capability is the administrative alignment which refers to the ability for collaborations to arrange processes and frameworks for joint working. The second capability we refer to is the relational management which is the ability to draw on strong trust-based relationships to coordinate activity. This ensures transparency and clear communication which can facilitate accountability. And the final capability we introduce is community organisation which refers to the ability to reach and engage local communities. This safeguards structures that are in place for wider participation in project planning and delivery.
Although these capabilities – administrative alignment, relational management, and community organisation – can assist in navigating challenges, aligning stakeholders through common agendas, and provide a forward-thinking outlook which can bring further opportunities to collaboration we also cannot shy away from the challenges and tensions that our findings unravelled in collaborative governance arrangements. These challenges were underlined by two overlapping factors; the capacity of partner organisations and the time needed to develop governance capabilities. These challenges varied from city-region to city-region.
Our findings also have practical implications which hold relevance to wider collaborative governance arrangements beyond the context of our study – City Region Deals in Scotland. First, other City Region Deals across the UK – both larger and smaller Deals can also benefit from using, and expanding upon, the capabilities framework. Second, current direction of UK economic policy focuses on regional development, the report’s framework has relevance to numerous other initiatives such as Levelling UP, Town Funds, and LPIPs to promote collaborative governance and civic engagement. Finally, the findings also have relevance to other policy networks – such as industry groups and innovation.