There’s a lot to like about TechNorth. If it does for the North of England what TechCity did for East London, this technology initiative, which brings together Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle, will deliver around 200,000 jobs and put the North of England on the international map. But, with over 170 miles between Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, will a northern tech cluster really work?
When Nick Clegg first mooted the idea of TechNorth, he made the point that, for tech clusters to be internationally competitive, they need to gain a critical mass of skills, investment and businesses. While in the short term individual northern cities may struggle to gain critical mass in all the required areas, collectively they have the right ingredients in abundance.
Ten million people live in the greater area surrounding Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool. This is more than Tokyo, New York or London and includes nearly two million graduates. A compelling message can be created around a ‘northern powerhouse’ whose combined technology capabilities will be among the most impressive in the world.
Further from this critical mass, with an established reputation in the technology sector and better rail links to London than to Manchester, Newcastle may feel out on a limb, however. Its tech sector may gravitate as much to London as to Leeds or Liverpool and these links with the capital will continue to be important. Will this undermine the strength of TechNorth?
Much will depend on the level of investment that TechNorth receives, as well as the timing. When asked what timescale Clegg would put on creating the 200,000 additional jobs, a Government spokesperson said there was not a “complete timeframe” in place and that Mr Clegg was referring to the “coming years”.
Newcastle-based technology accelerator programme Ignite100 was one of the partners involved in creating the bid for TechNorth. They identified that the focus should be on creating strong communities that engage with one another, but also with London. They’re right. We can’t get too fixed on geography. TechNorth could deliver significant benefits to the North but we must not bury our heads and lose sight of the international agenda. We will have to keep lines of communication open with London as well.