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More than 50 towns and cities around the country have untapped digital potential, and are well-placed to become future digital hubs and economic powerhouses through a combination of effective policy-making and use of local digital resources, according to a study compiled by mobile operator Vodafone.
Written by former Bank of England economist Steve Hughes, Vodafone’s report examined towns and cities around England with populations of more than 40,000.
It looked at the availability of network infrastructure, including 4G coverage; a local digital economy, based on the presence of existing IT companies; and digital skills potential, based on a number of school performance indicators.
The full list identifies 40 towns and cities – so-called Digital Super Towns – where businesses and communities are already exploiting digital to drive economic growth, and where central and local government can act to boost productivity. At the top of the list were Altrincham in Greater Manchester, Bath, Solihull in the West Midlands, Tynemouth in the North East, and York.
“The UK is already a leader in digital industries like the internet of things [IoT] and virtual reality, and there is much more we can achieve if we make the most of our nation’s digital potential,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery.
“The report Vodafone commissioned shows that this potential exists right across the country, from small businesses looking to use digital tools to open up new markets, to a student learning coding skills to develop a new app.
“With the right approach, the UK can unlock this potential and lay the groundwork for a wave of Digital Super Towns capable of delivering economic growth throughout the country.”
Vodafone called on the newly elected metro mayors – notably former Labour member of Parliament Andy Burnham in Manchester, and former John Lewis managing director Andy Street in the West Midlands – to establish new Digital Enterprise Zones, designated geographic areas designed to foster the development of local digital economies.
It also outlined a number of actions national and local authorities could take, including performing data audits to understand local digital economies and skills bases; incentivising investment in fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband and future 5G networks and removing planning barriers to network construction; the possibility of voucher schemes to support digital marketing among SMEs; and exploring how funding for digital skills that is raised locally can be used locally.
“We are already seizing the opportunities of the growing tech industry, with our digital economy worth more than £118bn a year and employing more than 1.4 million people,” said digital minister Matt Hancock.
“We are determined to keep up this momentum and plans in our Digital Strategy to boost the nation’s digital skills, infrastructure and innovation will help make sure it happens.”