Leeds has the potential to become ‘digital capital of Europe’

Labour councillor James Lewis, and Stuart Clarke, Festival Director of Leeds Digital Festival at the launch. PIC: James Hardisty
Labour councillor James Lewis, and Stuart Clarke, Festival Director of Leeds Digital Festival at the launch. PIC: James Hardisty
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Leeds could reposition itself as one of the main digital capitals of Europe if it enhances its technology sector, an industry expert has claimed.

Stuart Clarke, who headed up the Leeds Digital Festival this year, said that London’s dominance of the digital sector is at risk from the increasingly high expense of living and running a business in the city, and that Leeds with its rapidly developing digital technology industry, was ideally placed to capitalise on this.

However Mr Clarke warned that the city must do more to retain talent and to triumphalise and highlight the burgeoning digital sector in the city.

Mr Clarke was speaking as a panel member at the launch of the Digital City platform by The Yorkshire Post’s sister title, the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Mr Clarke said: “We are at a crucial point for Leeds’s digital sector.

“We need to shout to the world about what we are doing in this city and how we are truly the digital capital of the North.

“For the last 10 years London has become Europe’s digital capital but with expenses rising there we have a great opportunity in Leeds to move even further.”

“We do have some problems with talent. We need to do more as a city to support it.

“It is something of a Yorkshire trait to shy away from telling people how great we are and how well we are doing as it is seen as boasting.”

Mr Clarke headed the team that launched the Leeds Digital Festival this year, bringing 6,000 people to more than 50 events in a week-long programme. The event attracted international attention with delegations from Estonia, South Africa and India attending.

Since the festival’s conclusion a separate delegation from Malaysia has come to the city, brought about with help from Leeds City Council.

Mr Clarke said he hoped that the festival would return in 2017 and that he and his team had the intention of making the event “bigger and better each year”.

Alongside Mr Clarke on the panel were The Yorkshire Post’s managing editor Nicola Furbisher, SkyBet chief executive Richard Flint and Councillor James Lewis, who is Leeds City Council’s executive member for resources and strategy.

Mr Flint referred to the development of the Leeds sector as a “quiet revolution”.

Digital industries now account for 23,000 jobs and generate £671m for the city-region’s economy.

SkyBet last week recruited its 1,000th employee having moved to Leeds from its former home in Harrogate in 2010. It now has offices in Sheffield.

It has launched a Coding Club to teach coding to “non-techies” with Mr Flint giving an example of an employee currently employed with the firm whose background was in metal work to illustrate the diversity of the workforce’s background.

Mr Flint said: “I am delighted to see Leeds is doing so well.

“We are very good and talking to ourselves in Leeds and Yorkshire but it is incumbent on us all to talk more about the great things going on to the rest of the country and further afield.

“We need to tell this story outside of the region.”

Coun Lewis said: “Leeds is a major hub in the digital economy and much of that is down to our heritage – the invention of the Wharfedale printing press in Otley back in 1856 revolutionised commercial printing.

“As print is all about communication it comes as no surprise that this rich history has led to a strong digital communication sector.

“We have also had a long dominance in internet infrastructure which remains today.

“This sees those businesses with the internet at the heart of their commercial models using it to their advantage here in Leeds.”

Coun Lewis said he considered that a greater sense of collaboration and working together was essential for the sector’s success.

He added: “We must keep the talent in Leeds. This is not just a sector for twenty-somethings lying on bean bags in California somewhere. This is something that can really bring more money into our economy.”