Tech can prove to be the ‘great leveller’ for the UK economy


This article is by Rory MacDonald, Chief Executive at Made Tech

In the early months of this year the government was heralding its levelling up agenda as a major driver for a balancing up of the UK economy, encouraging investment in the North of England.

While the coronavirus has curtailed a lot of other government business, there is still an appetite to reinvigorate areas of the North, and it could be argued that the pandemic has accelerated the need to create a better spread of economic hubs around the country.

Recently, the Prime Minister reiterated his desire to see around a quarter of the UK’s 92,000 civil servants who currently work in London move to the region by the end of the decade.

The Treasury also announced plans to create an economic campus in the North, while other departments, such as Work and Pensions and the Home Office, are also being considered for relocation.

Moving government departments may provide the catalyst that the Prime Minister is looking for, but it should not be the sole provider of economic reinvigoration for the North. That has to also come from a dynamic private sector, in particular, the tech/digital sector that is fast evolving into becoming a new cornerstone of the UK’s 21st century economy.

As a business successfully operating in the public sector, with clients such as HMRC and the NHS, we are well placed to support the levelling up agenda.

A lot of the big IT firms end up shipping their people up and down the country and that’s not good for those people or the clients. It drives unsustainable working practises, but it’s also about being based closer to customers and trying to build a local workforce that can drive the economy forward.

We work closely with public sector organisations, many of which have regional satellite operations, and being located near to them providing our specialist solutions will be of huge advantage to them and enhances their local supply chain ecosystem.

We are actively expanding out of London into the regions, having already set up bases in South Wales and Manchester, with plans for an office in Newcastle also on the horizon.

This is part of what we see as the regionalisation of tech. There are some brilliant tech communities in areas such as Leeds and the North East, which are really gaining momentum. In addition, Manchester has become an exemplar for the North as Europe’s fastest growing major tech cluster, with, according to Tech Nation, investment in the city growing from £48m in 2018 to £181m in 2019.

This is a clear demonstration of how attractive regional tech clusters are becoming for companies like ourselves.

The challenge is to ensure that the regions have the skills that will help businesses, which are either founded in these locations or are relocating into them, play a key role in the economic prosperity and levelling up of the North of England. The whole regionalisation model hangs on trying to drive local jobs and, therefore, there needs to be increased investment and a stronger focus on building modern digital and technology skills.

This must start at the top with senior leaders, including the metro mayors and heads of their local authorities, who really need to understand more about technology. Without that knowledge they can’t credibly be expected to drive a strong digital/tech agenda.

However, with a better understanding it opens up all manner of possibilities. Specifically, it should help drive significant programmes of re-training and levelling up of skills across the regions, which will help drive future innovation and investment.

I hope that levelling up will help to create a larger talent pool that our business and others can tap into and enable us to more effectively support our public sector customers that are already established in the North or are looking to move into the regions.

Knowing there is a skilled and innovative private sector supply chain in the North will give these organisations, along with private sector companies, further confidence they can effectively operate in the regions.