An alliance of Northern tech businesses including BT, and Auto Trader are calling on the Mayor of Greater Manchester to create a body to boost skills, innovation and investment across the region.

The new Manifesto for the Northern Tech Economy, created by industry body Manchester Digital and supported by tech leaders across the region, calls for the formation of a new Northern Tech Nexus of key city-regions – led by Greater Manchester – which would coordinate efforts between political, academic and business leaders to create a powerful pan-regional tech ecosystem.

The Manifesto also calls for the establishment of an annual international Northern Tech Summit and the creation of a Regional Digital Investment Fund, which would supercharge global capital support for startups and scaleups.

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The firms also call for targeted support for industrial placements – including through the proposed Mbacc initiative – to inject a wave of new engineering talent into the northern tech economy.

“With the right investment, organisation and collaboration, Northern cities have the potential to become Britain’s biggest tech hub,” said Alison Ross MBE, chair of Manchester Digital’s board and chief people and operations director at Auto Trader. 

“As the representative of the city region with the largest digital economy and the most developed devolved political arrangements in the North, the Mayor of Greater Manchester should instigate the creation of a Northern Tech Nexus with the aim of establishing a new global tech ecosystem that would serve as a counterpoint to the dominance of London and the South East.”

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Katie Gallagher OBE, managing director at Manchester Digital, said: “We see an opportunity to build a powerful northern tech ecosystem with Greater Manchester at its heart. 

“We want to work closely with the Mayor to create a combined northern approach to tech growth and innovation, harnessing core strengths across different city-regions to propel future growth on a larger scale. The recommendations in our Manifesto focus on the achievement of that goal, boosting innovation and skills in the process.”

Manchester Digital’s Manifesto for the Northern Tech Economy sets out recommendations for the new Mayor of Greater Manchester under three core themes.

The creation of a Northern Tech Nexus (NTN) – a grouping of political, academic, business and public sector leaders from neighbouring city-regions, aimed at creating a globally significant tech ecosystem. This would include a new annual international Northern Tech Summit, engaging tech companies, venture capital firms, educational leaders and politicians.

Fostering innovation and growth – which would involve supporting initiatives to grow diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, look at tax breaks for startups and scale-ups and explore best practice in achievement spinouts from universities. 

Boosting digital talent and skills – by lobbying for Apprenticeship Levy reform to unlock more funding for businesses to grow and to earmark funding to develop industry placements for the new Mbacc qualifications. 

The Manifesto points out that the total student population at universities in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield amounts to well over 250,000, which dwarfs that of the Oxbridge universities, which total around 60,000.

A report created by Barclays Eagle Labs shows that there are 708 high growth tech companies across Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield and that the four cities combined saw over £1.1bn in investment collectively over the past five years. Greater Manchester already has a strong tech sector, which includes ecommerce, Fintech and health tech. 

The mayor represents 2.8m people in Manchester, Salford, Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, Tameside, Stockport and Trafford. Andy Burnham has been the Mayor of Greater Manchester since 2017 and will seek his third term as Mayor for the Labour party on 2nd May.

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