Regional policy in Scotland after Brexit
The ‘Regional Policy in Scotland after Brexit’ Conference took place on Friday 7 February. The Conference was organised by the Scottish Government in partnership with the Regional Studies Association (Scottish Branch), the European Policies Research Centre (University of Strathclyde) and the ESRC Centre on Constitutional Change (University of Edinburgh). The Conference took a fresh, evidence-based look at regional and local development in Scotland and the regional policy responses that are required. The final agenda can be viewed here.
The Conference was opened by Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde.
Professor John Bachtler, European Policies Research Centre, opened the academic programme by providing an overview of regional inequality in Europe and the contribution of Structural Funds in Scotland between 1975 and 2020. His presentation ‘From cohesion to shared prosperity’ highlighted the lack of institutional stability in Scotland, and the implications of losing European Structural Funds. John discussed the recent trends in regional policy in the UK, namely the impact of the crisis on government interventions and the recent revival of thinking about subnational scales of economic development.
The subsequent Conference programme was structured under four headings: territorial challenges in Scotland and the United Kingdom; UK Government policymaking and shared prosperity in Scotland; the political economy of regional policy in Scotland; and the priorities and instruments of future policy - possibilities and limits.
Session 1: Territorial challenges in Scotland and the United Kingdom
Chair: Hillary Pearce, Scottish Government
Dr Mairi Spowage, Fraser of Allander Institute, was the first speaker of this session. Her presentation ‘Regional economic inequalities in the UK pre and post-Brexit’ looked at regional inequalities in the UK and Scotland, including the differences in economic growth in different areas, labour market outcomes and crucially the differences in public spending levels in different parts of the country. Mairi highlighted the demographic challenges facing the UK and the impact that different policies and migration might have after Brexit.
Professor David Bell, University of Stirling, was the second speaker of Session 1. His presentation, ‘Spatial inequality, measurement and regional policy’ compared the funding and role of European Structural Funds in Scotland with the (limited) information available on the objectives of the Shared Prosperity Fund. David considered the different ways in which spatial inequality is measured, and the options for using a wider range of indicators than those used for EU Cohesion Policy, concluding by outlining the major questions about the use of Shared Prosperity Fund in Scotland that need to be answered.
Session 2: UK Government policymaking and shared prosperity in Scotland
Chair: Professor Peter McGregor, Department of Economics, University of Strathclyde
Rebecca Hackett, Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland began the session with a presentation on ‘UK regional development policies in Scotland: principles and prospects’. She outlined the Scottish Government’s approach to regional policy in Scotland, focusing in particular on the City Deals programme, the lessons learnt to date, achievements and anticipated next steps of the programme. Rebecca spoke about the context for regional development in Scotland from a UK perspective and highlighted some of the opportunities, and forthcoming policy developments such as the Shared Prosperity Fund.
The subsequent presentation, written by Dr Arno van der Zwet, University of the West of Scotland, posed the question of ‘City Region Deals in Scotland: an effective governance mechanism for regional development?'. The presentation reviewed the implementation of Deals, highlighting the tensions inherent in applying a UK policy designed for the English cities in a Scottish context, covering policy competences for which Scottish Government is responsible. Political differences have been muted but there are clear capacity issues for local actors who have experienced both challenges and opportunities.
Session 3: The political economy of regional policy in Scotland
Chair: Dr Micaela Mazzei, Yunus Centre for Social Business & Health, Glasgow Caledonian University
Professor Mike Keating, University of Aberdeen spoke about ‘The politics of regional development’ reviewing the evolution of UK and Scottish regional policy in Scotland. He emphasised that, although regional policy is a matter of policymaking and technical expertise, essentially it is driven by politics with multiple social and economic objectives.
Dr Serafin Pazos Vidal, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, gave a presentation ‘Re-creating a domestic territorial cohesion policy post Brexit: alternatives and risks’. He discussed the implementation of EU Cohesion Policy and Rural Development Policy in Scotland, the options, alternatives and risks of a post-Brexit regional policy in Scotland, and the application of lessons from Structural Funds. Potential principles for a future regional policy include central/local partnership, co-production, multiannual financial planning, stability, medium to long-term objectives, targeting of spatial inequality, and opting in to European Territorial Cooperation programmes.
Session 4: Priorities and instruments of future policy: possibilities and limits
Chair: Richard Cairns, West Dunbartonshire Council
Linda Stewart, University of Highlands & Islands, presented on ‘Regional policy and peripherality in Scotland: EU legacies and future prospects’. She reviewed the use of European Structural Funds in the Highlands & Islands from 1994 to the present, and explained the difference that the funding has made, as well as the institutional experience of partnership. As a case study of impact, Linda focused on how EU funding has been utilised to create the University of the Highland & Island and its legacies.
Dr David Waite, School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Glasgow spoke about ‘Regional inclusive growth policies in Scotland post Brexit: lessons learned & path dependencies’ where he looked at the changing nature of urban and regional policy and the lessons learnt from City Deal constructs. He questioned whether ‘inclusive growth’ as part of deals was really embedded, the tensions between sectoral and territorial considerations, and the evolution of new territorial politics between the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations.
Professor Fiona Wishlade, European Policies Research Centre, was the final speaker of the day. Her presentation entitled ‘Regional development policy in Scotland & State aid control: post Brexit regulatory disorder?’ shifted the focus of the debate to the role of State aid policy in influencing the options for a post-Brexit regional policy. She discussed how EU Competition Policy control of State aid has affected the design and implementation of regional policy in the past, and the implications of different State aid control scenarios in future – mirroring of EU rules, bespoke domestic rules, and no rules or enforcement.
Professor John Bachtler and Professor David Bell brought the Conference to an end with closing remarks, noting the contribution of the Conference to the Scottish Government’s consultation on successor arrangements to Structural Funds in Scotland.