Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is to launch the TechNorth programme connecting five digital clusters in the north.
Clegg will launch the TechNorth in Sheffield today (23 October 2014) which will be part of the Tech City UK. The cluster will link Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and the North East (Newcastle, Sunderland and the Tees Valley), to create a technology hub similar to Tech City's in London.
“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,” added Clegg. “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.”
The TechNorth branding is intended to attract investors to the area and accelerate the growth of technology businesses. There has been some debate over whether technology startups can survive outside London and the news about TechNorth is a step in the right direction, said Doug Ward, co-founder of Tech Britain.
Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield already have technology clusters in their own right – but combining their strengths under one brand will encourage global investors and businesses to take northern startups seriously, Ward told Computer Weekly.
“I think every city will naturally feel it should have its own tech city organisation,” he said. “But, in reality, we’re competing in a global market and, for global investors and businesses to take us seriously, it is important we get together.”
Ward said that, by connecting the cities' technology hubs, startups will benefit from sharing knowledge and expertise.
“I know people are cynical towards government and politicians, but I’m really excited about this,” he said. “It’s fantastic they’ve engaged with the organic tech community across the North and listened to what’s needed.”
Tech City input
Tech City had already been trying to make connections with startups elsewhere in the UK. The government-backed initiative rebranded to TechCityUK in a move to become more inclusive. Earlier in 2014, Eric Van der Kleij – the first CEO of Tech City – said he implemented a friendship agreement between London and its twinned city, Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Digital Derry partnered with London to learn from Tech City and create clusters outside the capital.
He also said his successor, Joanna Shields – who is now chair of CEO of Tech City – also made efforts to shine a light on startups outside London, and tried to connect clusters together. The current CEO of Tech City, Gerard Grech, told van der Kleij of his intentions to continue these efforts in the future.
A third high-speed rail link (HS3) connecting northern cities would serve as a counterpart to the much-criticised HS2 project – which will eventually split north of Birmingham to serve Leeds and Manchester.
But Ward said he believes faster network connectivity is needed over faster rail lines.