Carolyn Reid / Jun 2021
Covid-19 has affected countries across the world, but the regional and local impact of the crisis vary widely with significant implications for crisis management and policy making. Lessons can be learned from cross-border collaboration.
The pandemic has driven many countries and their citizens towards being more inward-looking, but we need the cooperation of our neighbours more than ever. Whether it is to bring infection levels down, to reopen businesses safely or travel across borders to see family or take holidays – it’s a shared problem, requiring a mutual solution.
Early in the pandemic, and arguably still now, the focus has been on national level responses. But there has been little time yet to reflect on the effectiveness of responses at a local, regional or national level, let alone look beyond national boundaries.
In June 2020, the OECD forecast that the UK and France would suffer the deepest downturns among advanced economies, with predicted contractions 11.5% and 11.4% respectively.
The Interreg France (Channel) England programme – an EU funded cross-border programme – aimed at funding projects which seek to find common solutions to shared problems, set up its own call for Covid-19 related capitalisation projects in 2020, drawing on the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund set up to repair the economic and social damage caused by the pandemic.
From that call, came the C-CARE initiative, a partnership between three UK local authorities (Kent County Council, Norfolk County Council and Plymouth City Council) and New Anglia LEP with three French agencies (Conseil Departmental du Finistere, Pas-de-Calais Tourisme and CESI Higher Education and Training Campus. This project is set up to respond, reflect and report on local Covid-19 responses and to offer targeted packages of support for struggling communities in typically coastal and rural areas.
The Channel area – which spans South and East Coasts of England from Cornwall to Norfolk, and the North Coast of France from Finistère to Pas-de-Calais – has an economy that has historically performed well, but past crises have impeded inclusive growth and the pandemic has only increased inequalities, with acute employment challenges.
The C-CARE initiative’s large programme of support will involve over 70 organisations in shaping, developing and delivering 16 new support service solutions to address the socio-economic challenges created by the pandemic.
It aims to reach 4,500 people and almost 2,000 businesses through its pilot initiatives which include skills training to help individuals find new routes into employment or starting a business and advice and grants aimed at helping firms reset their business models and explore new opportunities.
It is hoped that the insights and evidence gathered will be fed into local plans on both sides of the border, to aid local towns in planning for future challenges brought by this pandemic or others, and ensure that necessary measures are in place to support businesses and people adapt in the face of economic shock or changing economies.
The range of partners, their location in different regions and member states means that a broader set of lessons can be learnt through collaboration.
Partners will adapt and enhance their own recovery programmes depending on the results from others, and will share their learning with local, regional and national bodies to ensure maximum benefit from best practice.
This is just one example of a cross-border partnership which thrives under a common framework of cooperation.
Due to Brexit, at the end of December 2023 our Programme will come to an end. The question for Programmes like ours, which have played a key role in UK-EU cooperation, is how we ensure a legacy for this type of cross-border collaboration and the important partnerships they foster.
There is already lots of evidence towards demonstrating the role of cross-border collaboration in tackling a wide range of issues from climate change threats and food security to ageing societies. We need to keep reminding and providing this evidence to national decision makers to ensure there are future funding mechanisms in place to foster these types of projects. As the saying goes a problem shared is a problem halved.