Top tech firms call on GM Mayor to create Northern rival to Silicon Valley

Alison Ross

An alliance of northern tech businesses, including BT, and Auto Trader, are calling on the Mayor of Greater Manchester to use his status and power as the most senior of the Metro Mayors, if re-elected, to create a new body to boost skills, innovation and investment across the technology sector in the whole of the North.

The new Manifesto for the Northern Tech Economy, created by industry body Manchester Digital and supported by tech leaders across the region, calls for the formation of a new Northern Tech Nexus of key city-regions – led by Greater Manchester – which would coordinate efforts between political, academic and business leaders to create a powerful pan-regional tech ecosystem.

The businesses behind the Manifesto call for targeted support for industrial placements – including through the proposed Mbacc initiative – to inject a wave of new engineering talent into the northern tech economy.

They also believe the establishment of a Regional Digital Investment Fund, would supercharge global capital support for start-ups and scale-ups.

As well as a fund managed by a Board with representatives from government, private finance, academic institutions, and major companies it says the Mayor should order a review into what tax breaks and targeted public grants would best serve the objective of increasing start-ups and scale-ups in the digital economy.

Alison Ross MBE, chair of Manchester Digital’s board and chief people and operations director at Auto Trader, said: “With the right investment, organisation and collaboration, northern cities have the potential to become Britain’s biggest tech hub. As the representative of the city-region with the largest digital economy and the most developed devolved political arrangements in the north, the Mayor of Greater Manchester should instigate the creation of a Northern Tech Nexus with the aim of establishing a new global tech ecosystem that would serve as a counterpoint to the dominance of London and the South East.”

The manifesto doesn’t mention any candidates by name as on Thursday 2 May residents across Greater Manchester will be electing the Mayor of Greater Manchester, while the Liverpool City Region will also be holding elections for their Metro Mayor.

Andy Burnham has been the Mayor of Greater Manchester since 2017 and is seeking to be elected for a third term lasting four years.

The manifesto shows a strident approach by Manchester Digital to lead the tech sector across the North to be a leading voice for tech.

As a trade body it runs a number of programmes to support the region’s tech industry, such as industry-led tech apprenticeships, Digital Her, Startup Activator plus flagship events such as the annual Digital Skills Festival. 

Katie Gallagher

Katie Gallagher OBE, managing director at Manchester Digital, said: “We see an opportunity to build a powerful northern tech ecosystem with Greater Manchester at its heart. We want to work closely with the Mayor to create a combined northern approach to tech growth and innovation, harnessing core strengths across different city-regions to propel future growth on a larger scale. The recommendations in our Manifesto focus on the achievement of that goal, boosting innovation and skills in the process.”

A report created by Barclays Eagle Labs shows that there are 708 high growth tech companies across Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield and that the four cities combined saw over £1.1bn in investment collectively over the past five years. Greater Manchester already has a strong tech sector, which includes ecommerce, Fintech and health tech.