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April 19, 2024

Northern UK tech firms call for help creating new Silicon Valley

New manifesto aspires to “turbocharge” the North’s tech sector, taking on the dominance of London and the Southeast.

By Tech Monitor Staff

Leading UK businesses, including BT, Booking.com and Auto Trader, have called for politicians to get behind a proposal to boost skills development, investment, and collaboration in the north of England’s tech sector

A Manifesto for the Northern Tech Economy, drafted by industry body Manchester digital, seeks to create a framework that will emploer the north to challenge the tech dominance of London and the South East. Among its proposals is the creation of a “Northern Tech Nexus” (NTN) of city-regions, establishing a more cohesive and powerful tech ecosystem that brings together political, academic, and business leaders.

“With the right investment, organisation and collaboration, Northern cities have the potential to become Britain’s biggest tech hub,” said Alison Ross, chair of Manchester Digital’s board and chief people and operations director at Auto Trader.

The manifesto calls the Mayor to “champion the Greater Manchester digital sector at home and abroad” by engaging angel investors nationally and internationally. (Photo by Bardhok Ndoji via Shutterstock)

A three-point action plan

With the Greater Manchester Mayoral elections approaching on 2 May, the manifesto sets out recommendations for the eventual winner under three core themes.

Firstly, the formation of the aforementioned NTN, which would see political, academic, business and public sector leaders from neighbouring city-regions come together to form a globally significant tech ecosystem, including a new annual international Northern Tech Summit, engaging tech companies, venture capital firms, educational leaders and politicians.

One element of this pillar would involve the construction of a Regional Digital Investment Fund – managed by a Board of individuals from government, private finance, academic institutions, and major companies – to enable greater access to capital and support tech start-ups and scale-up companies in member city regions.

The recommendations also suggest fostering innovation and growth, supporting initiatives to grow diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, assessing tax breaks for startups and scale-ups, and exploring best practices in achievement spinouts from universities. This key pillar of the manifesto sets out to address imbalances in the digital economy, increasing access to digital skills to boost representation of women in the tech sector, for example. The manifesto calls the Mayor to “champion the Greater Manchester digital sector at home and abroad” by engaging angel investors nationally and internationally.

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Thirdly, the recommendations involve boosting digital talent and skills, by lobbying for apprenticeship levy reform to unlock more funding for businesses to grow and to earmark funding to develop industry placements for the new Greater Manchester Baccalaureate qualifications. It calls for the Mayor to work closely with central government, businesses and employer representative bodies to generate the required funding and frameworks.

Getting more from the UK’s tech sector

The total student population at universities based in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield is well over 250,000, more than 4 times that of Oxbridge universities. The manifesto points to the impact such a workforce could have if properly equipped and harnessed.

Last year, TechUK released a UK Tech Plan highlighting opportunities such as growing tech clusters across the UK, giving local and combined authorities more incentives and confidence to invest in digital projects to accelerate digital transformation. This would help to address the “stark disparities on how funding, infrastructure and digital adoption is spread across the UK, with London scooping over 80% of venture capital investment into UK tech”.

A separate report by TechUK, The ‘Local Digital Index 2023’, suggested that improving the tech sector in the north of the UK would require significant digital upskilling, greater investment in ICT and ensuring Greater Manchester can draw in and build on R&D spend to “champion innovation in the region”.

Greater Manchester’s power as a growing tech hub

According to a report from Barclays Eagle Labs, there are 708 high-growth tech companies in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Sheffield. These cities are cited to have collectively received over £1.1bn in investments over the last five years. E-commerce, Fintech, and health tech already have a strong and growing presence in Greater Manchester, which generates by far the greatest number of STEM graduates in the region.

“We see an opportunity to build a powerful northern tech ecosystem with Greater Manchester at its heart,” said Katie Gallagher, managing director at Manchester Digital. “We want to work closely with the Mayor to create a combined northern approach to tech growth and innovation, harnessing core strengths across different city regions to propel future growth on a larger scale. The recommendations in our Manifesto focus on the achievement of that goal, boosting innovation and skills in the process.”

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