Why we need to celebrate the tech scenes outside of London

Published 18/06/2019 by Gordon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, Advanced

Last week was London Tech Week, an annual programme of events which celebrates the capital's technology sector, and there was one loud and clear message: technology businesses will not be threatened by the uncertainty and chaos that Brexit is creating. The UK is very much still open for business.

More than a third of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies are now based in Britain, according to research from Tech Nation and Dealroom, with London leading the digital growth. In fact, the city is home to 45 unicorns – privately held startup companies valued at over $1 billion – and boasts more of them than previous world leader San Francisco.

What these new figures also reveal is that London isn’t the only place to start and grow a business. At least two technology unicorns are now based in Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May has this week revealed how businesses have chosen to invest outside of London for technology innovation and talent.

Mastek, for example, is investing £12 million in a new digital skills programme for 120 graduates in Leeds, which will create 200 new jobs. What’s more, SatixFy is investing £30 million in R&D operation in Cheadle, while hiSky is investing £8.3 million in a new R&D centre in Oxfordshire.

London is still of course a world-class hub for innovation but, if we are going to maintain Britain’s position as a global technology leader, we need to ensure other cities are given credit too. After all, we have regional cities competing head-to-head with Europe’s biggest capitals.

The latest Tech Nation Report shows that Oxford, Los Angeles and Munich draw comparable levels of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) investment, while Manchester aligns with Toronto and Atlanta in the same sector. Perhaps surprisingly, Abingdon and Basingstoke are level with Prague, Strasbourg and San Jose for cyber investment while Newcastle upon Tyne is similar to Lyon and San Diego for AI.

Manchester has long been known as the largest technology hub outside of London. It has an incredible and diverse pool of talent along with excellent transport infrastructure which continue to attract a number of growing businesses including Google, IBM, Cisco, UKFast and TalkTalk.

Speaking on TalkTalk’s move from London to Salford, Rebecca Long Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles, said it provides further evidence that businesses can find success and growth outside of London as well as provide investment and job opportunities to the area.

Technology is also booming in Birmingham, which has climbed up three places from seventh to fourth in the UK’s top regional cities for technology businesses – putting it almost on a par with Edinburgh and Glasgow. The city has over 13,000 businesses employing around 100,000 people.

So why are some businesses choosing to base themselves outside of London?

One of the obvious answers is money. Since the birth of the Silicon Roundabout – London’s technology cluster – the costs of running a business in London continue to rise, with office rental costs increasing by 11.4% over the next three years according to property agent Knight Frank.

But it’s not all about money. There are more thriving business communities and co-workspaces across the UK where collaboration is highly encouraged – enabling organisations to support one another, which is critical when we consider the technology industry’s reliance on interoperability.

Universities are also providing a steady stream of new talent. The University of Oxford, according to The Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, is the best overall for engineering and technology – with universities in Cambridge, London, Manchester and Edinburgh not far behind.

This is exactly why a regional strategy is so important for any technology business that wants to attract the best talent – who, ultimately, are at the heart of every successful organisation.

At Advanced, we certainly believe that, by establishing flagship offices in major regional hubs across the country, we are able to reach the highest potential candidates possible. Our organisation now has over 2,000 employees working in Datchet, Birmingham, Leeds, London and Knutsford. 

So, while we are huge supporters of London Tech Week, we feel it’s only right we give a nod to the inspirational businesses, leaders and workforces outside of the M25 that help make the UK technology scene what it is today – and will help ensure the UK is a leader for years to come.