Posted on August 19, 2016 by staff

Leeds tech ecosystem undergoing “massive” changes


Leeds forms the centre of Yorkshire’s digital offering and already boasts a ‘unicorn’ company.

So is it a key city in the building of the Northern Powerhouse championed by George Osborne?

The devolution of power and funding to councils and cities was hailed by the former Chancellor as the best way to rebalance the economy and leave the North more independent of London and the South East.

Yet it is clear that in order for the Northern Powerhouse to succeed, the private sector must deliver sustained investment and growth.

Tech-led businesses grew at a rate 32 per cent faster than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2014, showing the importance of the digital sector in transforming the employment landscape.

And Leeds boasts the fastest-growing average digital salary – a huge 29 per cent increase in just three years up to 2015.

Steve Wainwright, a digital entrepreneur and co-founder of the Future Labs project, a tech hub based in the city which received £3.7m of Government funding, has witnessed the rapid transformation first-hand.

“Three years ago the start-up ecosystem here was very quiet compared with Newcastle and Manchester – but I’ve seen a massive change,” he said at a BusinessCloud roundtable of tech experts.

“Now we’re starting to make that infrastructure visible.”

Graham Pearce, who leads KPMG’s technology, media and telecommunications business across the North, has wider view of how well Leeds is performing.

“I think Leeds and Yorkshire sits very well in the bigger picture,” he says. “I don’t know why we’re so envious of Manchester.

“It’s just horses for courses: Manchester happens to have visible hubs, but the Yorkshire region is fantastically diverse and rich.

“The region’s got a lot going for it and initiatives like those from Leeds City Council are bringing us together on the digital board.”

There are more than 23,000 people employed in digital roles in Leeds, less than half the figure in Manchester.

However an average salary of almost £48,000 puts it ahead of its North West neighbour and fifth in UK overall – the highest outside the South and Edinburgh, and more than the clusters in Cambridge and Oxford, where the cost of living is far higher.

“You’ve got 100,000 people coming into Leeds city centre every day from a much more dispersed area,” reveals Simon Brereton, head of economic policy and sector development at Leeds City Council.

Amy De Balsi is the founder of the Leeds-based Herd careers job board and runs a digital jobs fair in the city.

She has been around the tech sector for 20 years – and is greatly encouraged by recent developments.

“I was talking to people at the Silicon Milkroundabout tech jobs fair in Shoreditch who had to leave Leeds six years ago because they couldn’t get a technology job,” she revealed.

“They were nearly crying on me because they can now move home as there is a sector for them to work in.”

It seems Leeds is becoming a key cog in a tech success story which spans the North.