The North of England needs to collaborate ever more closely if it is to maximise its growing digital economy, it has been claimed.
More than £165m was invested into northern tech businesses in the first three months of the year, the highest level in recent years, with interest from Silicon Valley in expanding into the area increasing.
Business and civic leaders told The Yorkshire Post that the business culture of the North of England was attractive to tech entrepreneurs but added that skills sets are holding progress back.
Speaking ahead of a Tech in the Northern Powerhouse event hosted by accountants KPMG, Dr Adam Beaumont of digital firm Aql, newly installed director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison and Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan, all said that businesses and councils need to be working closer together in order to make a success of this burgeoning sector.
Mr Murison told The Yorkshire Post: “This isn’t about the success of the north.
“If we are to have a successful economy post-Brexit then we need a north that is really punching its weight.
“This is not parochial self interest, this is about the whole of the UK. And in digital there are some challenges to compete internationally.
“The Northern Powerhouse approach is the right pitch.
“Between us we have got the wherewithal to do this for ourselves. What we are seeing is the best collaboration in a millennia. You have to go back a long way to see such a pan-Northern approach.”
Mr Riordan said that he, alongside Manchester City Council boss Joanne Rooney and her counterpart at Bradford Council Kersten England, were determined to work as a cohesive unit in order to further the region’s collective prosperity.
He said: “This is a northern issue, not a city issue.
“The only way we are going to succeed on this issue is together. Leeds and Manchester are closer together than both ends of the Central Line on the London Underground.
“We need to start thinking differently and together. Kersten, myself and Joanne are all really committed to this.”
When challenged if the rest of the north of England’s civic leadership were similarly minded Mr Riordan said: “There is work to do. We have got to work at it.
“But there are some great links. The different economies are complementary. But there are a few people who need to be convinced.”
Ms England said: “As the city with one of the youngest populations in the country, Bradford has an innovative and entrepreneurial workforce with significant clusters of advanced manufacturing companies as well as the digital health enterprise zone, a partnership between the Council, BT and the University that specialises in health technology.”
The comments were made as the latest Tech City UK report showed that the North is quickly building itself up as a vitally important digital hub and innovation leader.
Research is now showing that Manchester has the second highest number of people employed in digital businesses, and Leeds has the fifth highest average advertised salary for jobs in the sector.
Dr Beaumont said that the skill base of the north’s workforce needed urgent attention to sustain this growth, with Mr Riordan suggesting tech skills should be given the same priority as English and Mathematics in schools.
“The scarcity at the moment is skills,” Dr Beaumont said.
“We have to create an abundance of skills so we are not holding our hands so close to our chests.
“In San Francisco they have exactly the same challenges with skills. They approached it in two ways. One, grow more skills. The other is to look at the evolving demands of the employee which has gone from ‘I am grateful to have a job’ to ‘I want to make a difference and so I want my company to support my philanthropic interests’.
“In the north we are really philanthropic, we have a great third sector. And that is something we can use to bring people into the north.”
Mr Riordan added: “The next stage of what we do is digital skills. It is a massive area for us. We have got to respond and fill the demand that is there because it is the fastest growing sector in Leeds now.
“One in 10 jobs, 3,500 companies. It is about how we make ourselves a place where people not only want to start a tech company but also want to scale it up. “