The Greater Thames Valley needs to invest more in tech solutions and digital infrastructure but initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine have made it more challenging to get the attention of central government.
That is according to Tim Smith, chief executive of Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
He told BusinessCloud that the region is beginning to get more recognition as a digital tech hub but investing in digital assets – rather than just physical infrastructure – has to remain at the top of the agenda.
“There’s been quite a lot of work done by the LEP and Connect Thames Valley Tech (ConnectTVT) and I think that has gained traction recently, although it tends to be more focused on the towns in Berkshire, certainly Reading and Slough,” he says.
“That wasn’t the case a couple of years ago, particularly with the government’s focus on Tech City at the time. Notwithstanding, that doesn’t really affect Berkshire’s economy, which is phenomenal.”
Investing time and money into rolling out superfast broadband across Berkshire has been important, but Smith says the LEP now needs to “raise the ceiling” by focusing on 5G in the future.
“What we also have to do is make sure that our attention is turned to technological solutions and not just investing in hard infrastructure,” he says.
“There will always be a need for that [hard infrastructure] in terms of rail and road enhancements, but it’s very clear now that some of the greatest challenges we face as a region will require technological solutions.”
Smith says the success of the Thames Valley Berkshire economy, which has a GVA of £35bn and productivity levels per head second only to London, has meant that “there will always be a focus and attention elsewhere”.
“It takes the Greater Thames Valley four days to produce something it would take a week to produce in the Northern Powerhouse; that gives an indication of our productivity levels,” he says.
However, Smith stresses that the region is still equally in need of the government’s attention.
“There is certainly a lot more noise. It used to be Tech City and now it’s the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine. It’s become more difficult to get our voice heard.
“What that does mean though is we need to collaborate across LEP boundaries and speak with a more combined and more cohesive voice.”