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Towards a North East Digital Strategy

Having read the Government’s Digital Strategy, we at Digital Union / Generator join a wide range of our colleagues and peers in the Tech sector welcoming the strategy and the work that will be done to implement it.

It comes as no surprise that the UK Government point towards flourishing eco systems of tech businesses. It is huge that the Government will now place coding skills within the centre of the curriculum and encourage digital literacy in adults in the same way as language and numeracy. It is also vital to point out and support the need for those outside the tech industries to look towards it for solutions to make them more efficient and indeed productive.

The strategy highlights Tech North’s role to assist the growth in the 7 cities which include Newcastle and Sunderland and it’s always great to be included and recognised as a place of importance. The digital business of the Northern Powerhouse contribute £9.9 Billion in GVA to the UK economy while the North East’s contribution to this increased by 14.9% in 2015. Typically in the North, Manchester is identified as the biggest cluster outside of the South East.

The digital strategy also goes on to state that the Government will work with Tech City and other partners across the country to ensure the learning and best practice from these programmes are shared and reapplied to develop the tech ecosystem across the UK.

But does anywhere in the North East really feature in their thinking?

Last year as part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative the Government announced awards of £4 million to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, specifically to develop Tech Hubs but not to either city in the NELEP region. This may be because of the treasury award made to the National Institute for Smart Data Innovation (NISDI) to be built on Newcastle Science City and of course we have Sunderland Software City home to a Digital Catapult but what about Newcastle Gateshead, but despite the great work one will do and the other does, are they really Tech Hubs?

To compete on even a UK level, we need to focus on a Regional Digital Tech Strategy that puts Tech and Innovation Hubs at the heart of it. The establishment of these will ensure that we can truly fulfil the Government’s Digital Strategies across the region. They will become home for skills strategies, cross sector innovation involving the business and education sector and will be where the tech sector itself, can seek support for business growth and idea generation.

We have seen some welcome efforts towards a strategy within the recent Auxin report and NGI appointing a Head of Digital Strategy, followed by a recent presentation at Newcastle’s Mansion house outlining what needs to be done in Newcastle. In tandem, there have been initial meetings of a Digital Alliance containing representatives of Generator / Digital Union, Dynamo and Sunderland Software City to discuss priority sub sectors and no doubt, these will be reflected in the NELEP’s Strategic Economic Plan refresh, published this Friday (10th March) which will also contain nods to the need for physical buildings and hubs. All of this is welcome but somewhat piece meal, nothing really points to a strategy towards supporting and building the tech sector here in the North East. Will the Councils and LEP really fight to secure the funding needed to ensure the Tech and Innovation Hubs come to fruition?

Now is the time that we knit it all together, form one strategy that works for us all, that continues in the work to make sure we are on the map as a leader in UK tech, ensures we capitalise on our strengths and have the physical infrastructure of tech and innovation hubs that compliment NISDI, followed with the conviction to fight for funds to deliver. We are already being left behind and if we don’t act now, we will be bringing up the rear from even farther away.

As the Auxin report rightly said ‘Carpe Digital’.

Jim Mawdsley


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