Saturday, 25 October 2014

TechNorth

I am grateful to Barbara Cookson for alerting me to the press release Deputy Prime Minister launches TechNorth.  According to the press release TechNorth is
"a major new Northern Futures project bringing the pockets of excellence in tech industries from across the North together to form an internationally renowned virtual hub." 
The idea is to
"co-ordinate the many pockets of excellence dotted around the region – including the existing digital technology expertise of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and the North East tech cluster. It will do what Tech City UK has done for East London – put it on the international map."
Not surprisingly, Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent,  has expressed some caution ("Can a northern tech cluster take off? 23 Oct 2014 BBC).

Tech City succeeds because skills, capital, customers and suppliers are concentrated in the same place. It is one of the consequences of agglomeration.  If there is to be a technology cluster in the North the conditions that created Tech City - in other words, agglomeration - have to be created here.

As it happens I was at the  "International Economic Conference" in Leeds on 4 July 2014 where Nick Clegg announced the launch of Northern Futures (see Power. Performance. Potential. Leeds Economic Conference 5 July 2014).  In his speech Clegg called for the great city regions (or metros) of the North to work together to create a Northern agglomeration.  As you can see from my article, though Clegg spoke quite a lot of sense his message to local politicians seemed to fall on deaf ears.

A couple of things have happened since 4 July 2014 that may change such attitudes. First, the Scottish referendum forced the government to promise the package of powers to the Scottish Parliament that are known as "devo max". That has created something of a backlash in the rest of the UK which will only be satisfied when similar powers are devolved to Wales and Northern Ireland and the regions of England. Secondly, the City Growth Commission of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) published Unleashing Metro Growth: Final recommendations of the City Growth Commission on 23 Oct 2014.  The report envisaged six "powerhouse super city regions" by 2030 namely London, North, Midlands, Central Scotland, North East and Severn. The North super city region would consist of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Merseyside with a combined population of 6.9 million and a GVA at 21012 prices of £232 billion (an uplift of £19.4 billion).

The idea of a northern agglomeration has been met with scepticism and outright hostility in some circles. "We don't want some kind of northern goo" tweeted someone in response to one if my earlier articles. But agglomeration need not mean loss of identity or the abandonment of local loyalties.  Look at London football teams. There has never been a "London United". Teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, QPR, Tottenham and West Ham which compete in the Premier League are based in districts of Greater London. London is a network of villages and the sense of belonging to the "East End" or "South London" is arguably as strong as county loyalties in the North.

Further Reading
For a bibliography on Northern regeneration and devolution, see my article Northern Futures Summit 8 Nov 2014 IP Yorkshire