A hub designed to raise the profile of the North East’s digital expertise alongside its northern neighbours has been launched by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Nick Clegg announced the creation of TechNorth - part of the wider Northern economic hub ambitions of Northern Futures - on a visit to Sheffield.
The virtual hub intends to co-ordinate the digital technology expertise of the North East, including Newcastle, Sunderland and the Tees Valley, with that of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Liverpool.
A mission statement from the government this week said: “It will do what Tech City UK has done for East London - put TechNorth on the international map.”
Mr Clegg said: “We’ve listened to local business leaders and there is a clear need for us to seize an opportunity to capitalise on existing tech talent by creating a northern tech hub to rival Berlin, New York, or Shanghai.
“My ambition, over time, is to double the number of tech jobs in the North, creating a stronger economy. To put this in context, it is estimated there are about 200,000 ICT jobs in the region currently.
“As a first step, I am announcing the creation of TechNorth, an extension of Tech City UK, tasked with promoting a world-class tech cluster spanning five cities in the North.”
Newcastle-based technology accelerator programme Ignite100 was one of the partners involved in creating the bid for TechNorth.
Ignite100 co-founder Paul Smith said: “I’m delighted the government recognise the ability and potential of Newcastle and Sunderland; TechNorth will help empower the country’s great industrial cities as we move into a world dominated by digital services and commerce.
“However, I think it’s important that the focus should be creating strong communities that engage with one another, but also with London. This isn’t about empire building or local agendas, but ensuring the whole country plays to its strengths to deliver world class technology.”
TechNorth will work with UK Trade and Investment to attract inward investors in the tech industry to the North and support existing technology businesses to grow by sharing ideas and resources.
The hub’s creation was driven by research which suggests that, to compete with San Francisco, Shanghai, Bangalore, Berlin and London, a cluster needs to reach a point of critical mass.
Mr Clegg added: “I’m proposing we press ahead with an idea that’s been submitted to Northern Futures - to create a world-class tech cluster in the North.
“As a first step, I can confirm Government will be investing in an organisation that promotes TechNorth internationally to encourage global businesses to invest here.
“Alongside this, TechNorth will look at the case for investment in digital skills to ensure these companies have a local pool of talented people and have access to the finance they need to grow.”
Baroness Shields, Chair of Tech City UK said: “Tech businesses are driving economic growth and tapping into the unique strengths and talents of our great cities like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and the North East.
“This initiative builds on the phenomenal success of Tech City UK in London, helping extend this success into the North with the Tech Cluster Alliance, and will help us power the global success story for the whole of the UK.”
Brendan Flattery, chief executive of Sage UK and Ireland said: “The North East already has a thriving technology sector - the successes of Dynamo North East and accelerator programmes such as Ignite100 are testament to that – but we welcome any steps to enhance the region’s reputation as a tech hub.
“We welcome any initiative which supports a unified and shared voice for the sector, attracting further investment in the region. This announcement will be widely welcomed by North East businesses - a recent Sage survey found 52 per cent of small businesses owners believe too much investment is focussed on London and the South East. It is positive to see steps being taken to support our already world class technology sector.”