AS Brexit finally becomes a reality, and all eyes shift to what follows next, it’s hard to not focus on the immediate aftermath. There’s been lots of talk about what’s at stake, and how the country will be impacted.
But rather than looking at the next few weeks, or even months, we should turn our attention to the next 10 or 20 years. The opportunities are immense. Forward-planning and long-term investment are essential if we’re going to future-proof our economy.
The Chancellor’s most recent backing of the HS2 project speaks to exactly that. Infrastructure is a vital part of ensuring our country is progressing forward and making use of the resources we already have.
Following the election, the Government realised that it had a duty to earmark significant infrastructure funds for areas which turned Conservative, pledging tens of billions of pounds for the Midlands and North.
The HS2 project is a crucial piece of the puzzle that will link North and Midlands to London, and consequently create an abundance of commercial and growth opportunities for regions beyond the capital.
The implications of an improved transport network, both for the Northern tech scene and the UK more broadly, cannot be underestimated. It is currently predicted that the new line would reduce the journey time between Manchester and London by 47 per cent, and from Leeds to London by 38 per cent.
So why does cutting down rail travel times matter to the UK in the long run? Put simply, supporting the Northern tech scene is integral to underpinning UK innovation and realising the ambitions of our industrial strategy and increasing reliance on the digital economy to drive output.
In March this year, the Northern Tech Awards will showcase and celebrate the North’s fastest growing and most promising tech companies. GP Bullhound has hosted the awards since 2011, and each year there are new companies being developed that indicate how much there is to champion in the region.
There are, today, already 12 technology businesses worth over $1bn in the region, including The Hut Group and Autotrader, and investment in Northern tech companies has reached a 10-year high.
Manchester and Leeds are key destinations along the HS2 route, and integral components of the Northern tech ecosystem. Recent research from GP Bullhound revealed that more than 25 per cent of the fastest growing Northern tech companies were located in Greater Manchester, with Leeds ranking second at 13 per cent.
Creating this level of success in technology is all about talent, and companies in Northern England and Scotland will need to attract the best and brightest to maintain it.
Sustaining tech recruitment in the North has been facing challenges of late – in fact, 88 per cent of respondents in the north of England highlighted that they are finding it increasingly difficult to hire IT and tech talent. This challenge needs to be tackled to ensure the North’s tech scene is on a sustainable path to the future.
Ensuring a reliable pipeline of innovative and creative talent is a vital part to sustaining and further supporting the sector’s productivity in the northern regions – and accessibility to the area is a vital component in facilitating this.
Transport links such as the HS2 railway would establish greater ease of access from across England to emerging hubs like Leeds and Manchester, helping to draw in a diverse range of talent.
HS2 would also increase connectivity with London specifically, further aligning two of the standout tech hubs in the UK. Increasing ease of movement between the two would help to build up collaborative relationships between these two tech ecosystems.
Promoting this flow of communication and movement between London and the North is highly important in ensuring the UK tech industry as a whole continues to be at the forefront of the sector globally, drawing in investment and support. A mutually beneficial relationship between these two hotbeds of innovation must be fostered – enabling both region’s tech scenes, and the UK’s as a whole, to thrive.
Successful delivery of HS2 and broader investment in the region will prove to be a huge catalyst for growth – for the North and Midlands, and in turn the country more broadly. Let’s ensure we make it happen.
Hugh Campbell is managing partner of tech advisory and investment firm GP Bullhound. He also heads up the Northern Tech Awards which will be hosted at the Royal Armouries in Leeds on March 26.