pro-manchester hosts Tech Roundtable with the Lord Mayor of the City of London

Wednesday, 31st July 2019

As part of the Lord Mayor of the City of London’s annual visit to Manchester, pro-manchester brought together leading tech professionals from across the region. The event was hosted by B Works, powered by Yorkshire Bank, and sponsored by Manchester Metropolitan University.


Mark Robinson – Finch Insurance (Chair)
Alderman Peter Estlin – Lord Mayor of the City of London
Roxy Lawton – MMU
Keith Miller – MMU
Joseph Venables – Bruntwood
David Judic – CYBG
Neil Robinson – OakNorth
Beckie Taylor – Tech Returners
Anna Dick – Hiring Hub
Scott Davies – ThoughtWorks
James Dunlop – HPE
Richard Foster – Jaguar Landrover
Paul Vlissidis – NCC Group
Anthony Morrow – OpenMoney
Dave Gardner – TLT LLP
Jonathan Bowers – UKFast
Hannah Tracey – MIDAS
Sam Booth – pro-manchester

Setting the scene for the discussion, Mark praised the booming tech sector in Manchester and welcomed the Lord Mayor to the city. He is keen to understand the tech ecosystem in Manchester to enable promotion across the UK and on international visits.

The turnover of tech businesses in Manchester was £4.98bn in 2018, and the city is home to the largest number of digital workers in UK outside of London. There is a clear challenge for recruitment with 40% of tech workers looking for new role and an estimated 800,000 unfilled roles by 2020.

How do we attract and retain tech talent in the region?

Anna has recently built the tech team at Hiring Hib from zero to seven. She attributes the success of recruitment to having a unique proposition – a scale up environment with greenfield tech and an open culture. She has also worked with Beckie to recruit through the Tech Returners programme, retraining an engineer to fulfil a tech role. The returners’ market is a huge untapped talent pool, estimated to be worth £200m to the Greater Manchester economy.

The graduate pipeline is vitally important with the Greater Manchester universities turning our hundreds of tech specialists each year. The challenge is to work with businesses to ensure those graduates choose to remain in the region. MMU encourage interaction from an early stage through sponsoring courses or projects and developing relationships with both the university and individual students.  David notes that after graduating from Sheffield and qualifying as a solicitor, it took him over a decade to comfortably call himself a fintech lawyer. MMU now offers fintech masters, showing their understanding of the importance of professional qualifications, not just academic.

MMU is also working with undergraduates to help them to understand the career opportunities in SMEs. Often they see the big, shiny brands on campus but might get more varied roles in smaller companies. However, it is difficult for the small companies to offer the same scale of leadership programmes as the big corporates. Programmes like pro-manchester’s SME Club help businesses to collaborate and provide a joint offer.

James explained that HPE has overhauled its recruitment process and part of that change was the driver to move from Warrington to Manchester. They are working to forge links with partners – like Bruntwood and the universities and to scale the business within the city. Taking feedback from the new intake, HPE now offers cash for employees to buy their own tech and get what they feel is best for their role.

Are we offering enough training to support the growth of the tech sector?

The Lord Mayor reminded attendees that 11.9m people in the country do not have the five basic digital skills. We need to start planning for sustainable shift in skills development and preparing for a future workforce we do not understand yet.

UK Fast has been working with apprenticeships for several years and has recently changed the approach from looking for teenagers passionate about technology to looking for problem solvers. Not only did they find more candidates, but those apprentices were the fastest to complete and some are already managing others. The interest in tech can be developed later. This approach is echoed by CYBG who recruited B Works staff for their attitude and aptitude, rather than banking knowledge.

Hannah noted that there is a new digital skills strategy with a pot of funding for retraining. This may be to upskill people within their current sectors/companies, or to enable them to develop new careers. Both Paul and Jonathan are seeing a change in schools to focus on problem solving and creativity, rather than just coding. However, this often due to great teachers and community programmes, as opposed to the curriculum itself.  Tech North are currently encouraging members to attend Brownies and Guides to talk about tech as it can be easier in engage girls outside the classroom.

Manchester is home to plenty of inventions. Could we do more to commercialise these?

Jonathan noted that there a number of incubator spaces available to support entrepreneurs. UK Fast also gave free hosting to give businesses a headstart. HPE has also changed its approach from buying companies outright to taking smaller shares in equity. Entrepreneurs increasingly want to do it on their own with the support of funders.

MIDAS works to match larger companies with SMEs and start-ups. For example, a recent delegation of start-ups were given the opportunity to pitch to e-commerce giants including Missguided, N Brown and AO. Some completely new ideas came out of the process, benefiting all parties.

Joseph, who focuses on Bruntwood SciTech, believes Manchester, and the UK generally, is great at R&D and innovation but we struggle to commercialising new tech. The IP if often sold and exploited elsewhere. Graphene being a prime example where the IP has been sold to China and the UK is then buying products back at a premium. He wants to see the UK getting better at funding within our own communities.

Cyber security is a great example of developing expertise within the city.  Paul notes that GCHQ increasing its presence in Manchester will have a huge strategic impact. The city is already home to lots of skills and talent, and companies like NCC can train cyber security within six months if they have base level of talent. Recently, they have retrained someone from politics background to an ethical hacking role.  Too many businesses don’t equate agility and innovation with security; they need to do both together.

Collaboration is what sets Manchester apart from other tech hubs.

As co-chair of pro-manchester’s Technology sector committee, Mark has noticed the genuine desire of Manchester businesses to collaborate.  B Works is physical proof of Yorkshire Bank’s commitment to create a community hub and support SMEs in the city. David notes there is more they can do to ensure the bank works with its customers and investments ahead of their competitors.

The region’s universities not only collaborate with the businesses but with each other. The new GM Cyber Foundry project is jointly run by MMU, University of Manchester, Lancaster University and the University of Salford to provide expertise to SMEs. Already hugely successful, the universities are seeking funding for a similar AI Foundry.

Bringing the event to a close, Mark once again thanked the Lord Mayor and looks forward to further collaboration between Manchester and London.