Future of the North: A real digital economy

Future of the North: A real digital economy

As a Northern developer we have a keen interest in how the regions are developing and what the future holds. Whether you look at Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield or Hull, it is clear that the fortune of individual places in the North is dependent on the success of all.

In the first article of this new series, we take a look at how the future of the North is dependent on embracing the digital economy.

To be clear from the start, the North’s digital economy is already a true powerhouse, with the region’s tech businesses worth almost £10bn, accounting for at least 300,000 workers and more than 5% of regional GDP.

Those statistics are impressive – but a look at the speed of growth and the future potential shows just what the Northern digital economy could become.

According to TechNation, an organisation designed to empower tech entrepreneurs, the North’s digital economy is creating jobs at 10 times the rate of the region’s non-digital sectors and productivity is four times higher.

The idea that tech-jobs are the preserve of Londoners is at best an outdated fallacy. In the race to modernise the national economy it is clear that the Northern digital sector is one of the most fertile industries in the UK – and it should be supported as such.

On a national level, the New Statesman reports that the UK’s creative industries are growing at twice the pace of the economy as a whole, with employment in digital businesses rising 13.7% from 2014-2017. In addition, these roles are paid higher than the average national salary.

The success of digital investment in areas like Greater Manchester and Leeds is well-publicised. MediaCityUK, located on the formerly derelict Salford Quays dockyards is an obvious case in point. From its initial success of attracting the BBC and ITV to the North West, the site has only continued to grow, support jobs and be at the forefront for innovation. The latest client is broadband giant TalkTalk which happily opened its flagship office on Salford Quays in 2017 and is now in the process of bringing hundreds of new roles to the area.

Another recent success story can be found in Leeds. Already known as the UK’s second centre for financial services, the Yorkshire giant is now on the map as a digital hub following Channel 4’s 2018 decision to set up a new national HQ in the city. This move will initially bring 200 quality jobs to Leeds – a quarter of Channel 4’s entire workforce – and it is estimated that at least half of the channel’s budget will be spent outside London by 2023. If the example of the BBC at MediaCityUK is anything to go by, Leeds is certain to benefit far beyond the initial investment.

With this in mind, the North has a clear blueprint to make use of. The success of Manchester and Leeds should be the foundation on which more is built, not the end of the line. These digital roles are high-wage and future-proofed and could transform communities across the region – in the smaller towns as well as the big cities.

Unlike many traditional industries such as manufacturing, the digital economy is not yet built. There is absolutely no requirement for it to be based in London and it is vital that politicians and businesses across the North strike while the iron is hot, moving fast to ensure that the next BBC, ITV, TalkTalk or Channel 4 see the region as the best – and only – place to do business.

This will require significant investment in towns, cities and transport systems. It will require places which work as modern destinations where the most talented graduates and workers want to live and work. It will require the sort of far-reaching and long-term planning which London has proven so adept at in the past.

For any company developing homes in the North of England, the key question always concerns demand – who is going to live in the stunning modern homes we are building? Businesses must answer similar questions; where are the highly trained workers going to come from, and where will they live?

Investing in a digital economy for the North is not a simple task, and it will not be a rapid undertaking. However, if we want to ensure the North’s economic future is going to be both prosperous and secure then we must lead the digital revolution and make Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull and everywhere in between the only logical choice for tech companies in the future.

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