Manchester identified as UK’s most industrious city region for digital growth

18th March 2020, 9:57 am

A WORLD-FIRST deep dive study using artificial intelligence has highlighted the ‘hidden’ digital businesses driving UK tech – illustrating the way that regional innovation is already helping to ‘level up’ the digital economy.

Manchester is revealed as the UK’s Top Digital Tech City based on the scale of digital business activity in the city-region and affordability, with business rates less than half those in London.

The findings today prompted the UK Government to acknowledge the strength of regional digital innovation, including the role for centres outside London in making the country more competitive internationally.

Graham Stuart MP, UK Minister for Investment at the Department for International Trade, said: “As one of the easiest places to set up and operate a business, the UK’s creative economy and strong R&D ecosystem help ensure that the UK’s digital sector is thriving.

“This report shows that all regions across the UK are seeing the benefits of digital business and, with Manchester leading the way, it’s exciting to see how the digital economy is levelling up opportunity nationwide.”

Research conducted by The Digital City for the UK’s Top Digital Tech Cities – 2020 report (available here) shows that Manchester is home to 18,926 digital businesses and hosted 1,789 related digital events in 2019, yet boasts average rateable values of only £130 per sq metre.

London has more digital businesses and events but was forced into second place with business rates more than double those in Manchester (£270 per sq metre).

Data science and software company, The Data City, built a bespoke AI engine to analyse web, open and licensed data to provide real-time insights into the UK’s digital and tech industry. It crawled more than four million UK business websites and 100,000 event listings.

Previous research has relied on assessing the way that businesses describe their activity when first registering, resulting in significant numbers of companies that evolve into digital tech businesses being overlooked.

UK’s Top Digital Tech Cities – 2020 ranks 10 UK cities using indices including digital businesses, events, and costs, to produce the following table.

  1. Manchester
  2. London
  3. Birmingham
  4. Bristol
  5. Milton Keynes
  6. Leeds
  7. Edinburgh
  8. Brighton
  9. Reading
  10. Glasgow

Paul Connell, Founder of The Data City, said: “The UK regions are thriving as digital centres and our ground-breaking AI research has evidenced the extent of activity being undertaken outside of London in a way that has not previously been possible.

“Utilising the latest digital technology has enabled us to shine a light on those areas which provide the most potent platforms for growth in the sector, with lower costs outside of London providing benefits to businesses in locations which also have a thriving digital ecosystem. This has the added benefit of making businesses more competitive.

“As the Government works towards levelling up the regions, this research demonstrates that cities including Manchester are already seeing the advantages that digital brings.

“London is an important international base for many digital businesses, with a thriving digital, eco-system. However, the combined power of the nations and regions is evident from our research and the UK Government should now take steps to capitalise on the opportunities that presents.”

Half of the UK’s Top Digital Tech Cities are located in the South East, with Manchester the only North West city to feature.

In total, The Data City assessed 29 major UK cities based on the number of businesses located there and the volume of events taking place across eight key digital sectors, as well as each city’s affordability.

The digital sectors the cities were benchmarked against are: artificial intelligence (AI) and data; gaming; advanced digital; eCommerce; cyber security; FinTech; Internet of Things (IoT); and MedTech.

The report includes data from a broader research project that jointly commissioned by MIDAS – Greater Manchester’s inward investment agency – and Greater Manchester Combined Authority to support the Greater Manchester Local Industrial Strategy.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Greater Manchester and the wider North of England is in a stronger position than I’ve ever known it to be. It particularly feels like Greater Manchester’s creative, digital and tech sector is having a moment – it has happened in other cities around the world and now it is happening here. Being named the UK’s Top Digital Tech City through this innovative study highlights the true strength of the city-region’s thriving digital scene and we are primed to shape the future of the sector while supporting the broader UK economy in competing internationally.

“The UK is on the verge of major change and in pole position just as the North is coming to the top of the political agenda. The chance to lead the digital revolution is within Greater Manchester’s grasp, just as we led the first industrial revolution over 200 years ago. We are ready and willing to support the UK government in taking advantage of the strong digital economy across the regions.”

Tim Newns, CEO of MIDAS, said: “This report better evidences Greater Manchester’s strengths across numerous established and emerging digital sectors. It allows us to more effectively understand how the city region compares with the UK’s broader digital landscape, based both on industry strength but also industry drivers such as affordability.

“This research from The Data City has built a more 3-dimensional view of the dynamics of digital industries in Greater Manchester and across the UK, based on the language they use to describe themselves. Adding networks and the subject matter and volume of events that are taking place in the city region has really enabled us to see what themes are emerging from converging strengths across multiple industries, which we have been able to add to the wider research. One example of this is service design innovation and Ecommerce, which visibly build on the strengths of our creative, digital media, tech and retail sectors, supported by our known academic strengths in areas such as computer science data mining and retail tech.”

The UK’s Top Digital Tech Cities | 2020 is available for download here.

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