UK digital technology sector outpacing wider economy

Written by: Andy Bounds
Published on: 9 Jul 2018

Source: Financial Times, published on 16 May 2018

The UK’s digital technology sector is growing faster than the economy as a whole and spreading beyond the south-east and big regional cities, according to an annual report.

Tech Nation 2018, compiled by the government-funded advocacy body of the same name, found that the turnover of digital tech companies rose 4.5 per cent in 2017, compared with a 1.7 per cent rise in GDP.

Tech Nation identifies 16 “tech towns” that have a higher than average number of digital businesses. They include Burnley in Lancashire, Livingston in Scotland and Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, alongside the likes of Newbury, Slough and Swindon on the M4 corridor.

Eight cities have above average rates of tech sector employment, including Portsmouth, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and York.

The digital tech sector was worth £184bn to the UK economy in 2017, up from £170bn in 2016. It employs 1.1m people.

The sector recruits substantial numbers from ethnic minorities — 15 per cent are non-white, with many from overseas. It remains male dominated: 19 per cent of those working in the industry are women.

Employers say their biggest difficulty is recruitment — 83 per cent said finding talented individuals was their most common challenge, according to a survey accompanying the report.

British digital tech companies raised a record £4.5bn in venture capital investment in 2017, according to figures from Pitchbook, a data provider, almost double the previous year. Deals included the £1bn acquisition of Leeds-based Callcredit, a credit checking business, by TransUnion of the US.

An unlikely tech centre highlighted in the report is Burnley, a former mill town of 73,000 people north of Manchester that is home to almost 100 tech businesses, according to Digital Lancashire, a non-profit promotion agency. The town is the site of a University of Central Lancashire campus, and office space is cheaper than in larger cities.

Companies operating in the town include Vodafone Automotive, which develops car tracking and anti-theft devices, and Boohoo, the online fashion retailer. Daisy Group, a telecoms provider, is in nearby Nelson.

John Jackson, of FlowXO, which is based in Burnley and develops chatbots for online customer help, said entrepreneurs were active in the town and the council had fostered links between local tech companies.

His business also has an office in Manchester, 50 minutes away by train.

Tech Nation was created by the amalgamation of Tech City UK and Tech North. It receives government funding to accelerate the growth of the sector.

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