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The concept of “levelling up” has been at the top of the government’s agenda for years now, with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government recently renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities as the latest sign of the government’s plans.
The government has ambitious ideas to drive the levelling-up agenda across the UK, and with technology innovation radically encompassing all areas of society and business operations, it is crucial that more research is done on the tech ecosystem of each nation and region in the UK.
In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, TechUK started a series of digital dialogues to do just that. We sat down with over 260 representatives from the tech sector, business, local and national government from all UK regions to discuss how the tech sector can help the economic recovery across the UK and develop policies that fit local needs, and to understand how levelling up might look in our sector.
It was clear from those discussions that the tech sector was thinking not just about the pandemic and how the industry could continue to help play our part, but beyond that, we wanted to know what the building blocks of a strong, resilient and innovative tech ecosystem look like.
It was from those discussions that the concept of “local digital capital” was born. Made up of eight components – digital skills, digital adoption, data ecosystems, digital infrastructure, finance and investment, research and innovation, trade support and collaboration and co-operation – local digital capital looks at how these pieces will help make our sector, economy and society stronger when slotted together and invested in.
But identifying the building blocks that make up local digital capital was not the end of the discussion. It was clear that we needed a framework to measure this across all nations and regions of the UK to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our tech ecosystem and how we can develop them.
This is how the Local Digital Capital Index (LDC Index) came to be. Launched alongside West Midlands mayor Andy Street at the Advanced office in the heart of Birmingham, the LDC Index provides that framework and starts the process of building the picture of our diverse UK digital landscape.
Read more about the UK digital economy
The LDC Index cannot – in fact, it must not – be a way to play one region off against another. That route leads us down a path of only looking at who’s top overall or focusing in on a specific component. Instead, we must look at the issues as a whole and have a mature conversation. We must develop collaboration to learn from best practice and help support those who need it.
The LDC Index is a tool to help policymakers to make the case for investment in our nations and regions as part of levelling up and to develop the discussion and actions we know need to happen.
The index is a work in progress, and we are constantly looking at ways to improve and develop it so that it measures what is needed to move toward our national and regional goals. We have announced the creation of a new local digital capital working group made up of representatives from the sector to help strengthen the LDC Index, but also to develop the discussion and thinking behind its different components. If you want to get involved in this, then we would welcome your thoughts, feedback and time.
To ensure we develop local digital capital across the UK, we must ask ourselves questions that will push us beyond our current position. If Wakefield is not seeing the benefits of technology and digital innovation that Wandsworth is, for example, then we have a problem. If there is great practice taking place in Bristol or Birmingham, how can it be shared with Bangor or Belfast? That is our challenge, but it’s also our motivation.
While the world and the UK might be getting smaller thanks to digital innovation, the gaps between our nations and regions risk becoming bigger and wider if we fail to act. The LDC Index shows we must invest in our regions to prevent them being left behind. Levelling up must be more than a political soundbite, and if those in government, across the UK, act upon it and invest, then the tech sector stands ready and willing to lead the way.