New study shows 'Silicon Sunderland' needs a directly elected mayor

Think tank Policy Exchange says the city could be a world-class centre for gaming and technology with stronger local leadership

A woman using a computer
A woman using a computer

The North East is becoming “a major technology hub” with thousands of jobs created in technology and computing – but could be even more successful with better support from local and central government, according to a major new study.

A report by leading think-tank Policy Exchange said councils could do more to help “Silicon Sunderland” reach its full potential, and called for the creation of directly-elected mayors to make local government more powerful and accountable.

The report’s authors also warned that poor transport links within the region and with neighbouring regions was holding the North East back. They welcomed proposals from Chancellor George Osborne for a new high-speed rail line between Manchester and Leeds, but warned that other transport improvements were also needed.

The paper, published by Policy Exchange, often described as a centre-right think-tank, looked at ways the Government could create jobs by supporting technology “clusters”.

Technology jobs are still largely concentrated in the South. But the report identified Newcastle and Sunderland as an area which was increasingly successful.

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

The authors said: “With a focus on software and gaming, both Newcastle and nearby Sunderland are working to make the North East a major technology hub.

“There are estimated to be 1,300 software and digital companies in the area, from financial management systems giant Sage (the only software company listed in the FTSE 100), to a large and growing number of innovative start-ups. In total, there are 32,000 jobs in IT and telecoms in the North East, and a further 1,500 vacancies.”

The North East is developing a reputation as a place for major businesses and Government departments to put their IT departments, and was home to video game businesses such as Ubisoft Reflections, CCP Games and Eutechnyx, they said.

They added: “The University of Newcastle and University of Northumbria are both based in Newcastle, and offer some of the best courses in video game design and computing in the country.”

However, the IT sector needed more support from local government, the report said.

Eddie Copeland, author of the report, said: “The technology industry is bringing considerable benefits to the UK economy, but it is failing to live up to the Chancellor’s wish for it to benefit every corner of the country.

“The question for policymakers is how to extend the sector’s benefits to other regions, especially England’s northern cities so we can create ‘Silicon Sheffield’ or ‘Silicon Sunderland’.”


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