UK Tech Week is important, and not just for the tech sector

Enabling ambitions

Recently, I was sat in the Royal Armouries listening to the speakers and different sessions at the Convention of the North. With Ministers, Mayors, Council and business leaders, third sector bodies, charities and others in attendance, it was a veritable Who’s Who of those contributing to the discussion about what the North needs to help shape its future.

Net zero, transport, people & place, and trade & investment underpinned by devolution were the key headings outlining the ambitions for the North. And what was one of the crucial factors to power and enable these ambitions? The tech sector.

I’d wager that I could have been in a similar conference hall in another big city elsewhere in the UK and the same enabler of change, services, growth and success in each region would have been the tech sector.

The power of the UK’s tech sector can’t be underestimated. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology have said that the UK tech sector is valued at over $1trillion with more ‘unicorns’ than Germany, France and Sweden combined. And techUK’s own work has shown that the UK tech sector employs over 1.7 million people and adds over £150bn to the UK economy every year.

And that means that the tech sector isn’t just the preserve of one geographic area of the UK. Tech firms are located, working, employing or involved with every area stretch across the entire UK. Of course, a number of companies are based in London but actually much of the interesting, innovative and revolutionary work is happening outside the M25.

And that’s why UK Tech Week matters.

It’s an opportunity to show the different strengths of regions, the ingenuity across the country and the collaboration efforts needed to build a people-centred but tech-enabled UK. It means that in Bristol, Belfast and Birmingham great things are happening, and these cities are competing with Bangalore, Berlin and other cities that don’t begin with B on the international stage.

Harnessing regional economies

There’s another important opportunity coming out of UK Tech Week. And it’s an important rebalancing opportunity for the sector, economy and society.

techUK’s Local Digital Index for 2023 published the digital sector GVA per person for regions across the UK. In London this was £9,083, compared to £2,203 in the North West, £2,055 in the West Midlands, £1,979 in Scotland, and £1,348 in Wales. This new data suggested that if the six regions with the lowest digital GVA reached the UK median figure it would add £4.8 billion p.a. to the UK economy, and specifically to regional economies, unlocking new economic growth.

To give you an idea of what that would mean looking ahead, raising the digital GVA in an area like Yorkshire and the Humber could add an estimated £45 billion to the region’s economy by 2050.

And we should be clear, this doesn’t mean improving the digital economy in the UK’s nations and regions at the expense of London. Quite the opposite. A successful London is good for the UK. But a successful London working with strong regional economies, understanding that other areas of the UK have expertise and are better placed to deliver than the capital is even better for the UK’s prospects, now and in the future.

Take TechWM. They are partnering with London and Partners to help drive global reach and inward investment (see here). That’s not London losing out, or the West Midlands bending to the capital. It’s about collaboration ensuring that on a high tide all the ships rise.

Now if that digital GVA figure in the West Midlands rose to £3,000 per head (an increase of £945 per head) that would be a £3.4billion per annum for the region. While that won’t happen overnight and while it’s still behind London’s digital GVA figure, it is a significant change and sizeable improvement, helping bring new business, trade, companies and jobs to the region.

The next gen

There’s the prospect for another big change. There is often talk about the fourth industrial revolution and references back to the industrial revolution of the 19th Century and the changes this led to on jobs and communities across the UK.

There are some ‘names’ that we still remember today who helped shape that change in our communities. Cadbury and Chamberlain in Birmingham, Rowntree in York, Salt in Bradford. These men – and they are all men – helped change cities and communities in the Victorian era. Across manufacturing, retail, confectionery or textiles they changed the economy of cities with jobs, homes, investment and charitable giving.

New inventions, products and services have made technology an integral part of our daily lives. This has helped those working in our sector to understand, address and tackle some of the challenges our economy, communities and society faces.

That’s why the next generation of philanthropists, investing in projects, shaping the civic realm and changing communities will come from the tech sector (and they won’t all be men!). I’m not sure our 21st Century business leaders will have streets named after them, or that they’ll be Mayors or in Parliament – perhaps they will – but I do know that their work will be helping create change that will outlast them and impact people beyond their immediate vicinity.

UK Tech Week provides an opportunity to make new voices in our sector heard. To show the demonstrable impact the tech sector is having across the country. To grow and connect a UK network of tech leaders. And perhaps to think about the big challenges we face, locally and nationally, and the sector can collaborate and deliver to tackle them.