Posted on October 23, 2017 by staff

Creating a digital city in Manchester


Around 80,000 people are leaving London every year. According to the Financial Times, if you look solely at domestic movements, London’s population really is in decline.

The city’s population lost 305,000 people to other parts of the UK over the past five years. These are mainly people in their 30s and 40s.

What we are seeing is extraordinary. Not only are people leaving the capital, we’re also seeing them settle in our other cities.

I have been employing people for more than 30 years and for the first time I am seeing significant numbers of high-calibre graduates choosing Manchester as an alternative to London.

On top of this, young professionals are making a conscious decision to stay in Manchester and have got a taste of the vibrant city. More often than not they studied in one of the Manchester universities or visited friends here. These friends act as a magnet for more people to move away from London.

This talent retention is exactly what we want to see if we are to build Manchester as the top digital city.

When Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham declared his vision to make Manchester the number one digital and tech city in Europe that might have seemed a bold statement, but there’s actually enough evidence to support the effort.

From my experience talking to young start-ups, Manchester is the number one choice as a great city to set up new ventures in, with Leeds not far behind. It’s not just because of cheaper rates and rent than London, it’s also because of the access to talent.

Greater Manchester has a strong history of industry, creating extraordinary businesses and workforces that compete with the capital. Look at the industrial revolution! The number of successful businesses and families founded in Manchester is remarkable.

It’s also interesting to see how many of these successful families are seeing their younger generations now setting up business here too, often with an interesting tech angle to the original family businesses.

If other cities want to follow suit and do what Manchester is doing they need to believe it’s possible.

Leadership plays an essential role in this too; Manchester has an extraordinary platform that Sir Howard Bernstein and Sir Richard Leese created. It has not happened overnight though, it’s the result of small steps taken over a long period.

I would like to see steps taken across the country as a whole to level the playing field when it comes to connectivity. When you look at the broader picture, connectivity across Britain isn’t great. We have had to rely on BT, who have made large profits but have not then made the proportional investment needed to keep pace like other countries.

It’s extraordinary that there are certain parts of the UK that can’t get the connectivity at all. More than 20 years ago I travelled on a subway in Hong Kong and was able to talk on my mobile whilst travelling deep underground. In our country in 2017 you lose signal on the train from London to Manchester!

Whilst investment in HS2 and HS3 seem like logical moves to mobilise talent and commerce outside of London, it only addresses a very small area. Whilst it’s great for Manchester, I do believe there are other areas with far worse transport links that may benefit a wider audience. Our physical transport links and connectivity links need to be better across the whole country.

Transport links make a huge difference and are essential for any digital city. Knowing that you can hop on a train to get to the capital gives people confidence to move further afield. The movement of the BBC to Salford opened people’s minds to how easy it is to move outside of London.

Brighton is another prime example. Significant numbers of people moved there; it’s a more creative place than the city. It is a thriving creative environment there now and there’s the option of commuting into London if they need to.

The same is clearly happening with tech businesses in Greater Manchester. The rate of growth in the city is encouraging people to open schools, more businesses and launch tech courses. It’s given us the confidence to work with Manchester Metropolitan University on an MSc course and to work directly with the government to launch our own free school.

The growing local economy makes it essential for us and others to continually invest locally. It’s great to witness this happening.

London ultimately sees more investment and always will. It is allocated substantially more money per head for transport than any other city in the UK. The more foresight that businesses like the BBC can have to relocate and give their teams a better quality of life outside the capital, the more we can balance out Britain the better.

London can’t be all things to everyone. It’s essential that we create numerous successful hubs right across the country.