Digital diamonds: the super suburbs of UK tech

Henri Egle Sorotos, May 31, 2018 2 min read

Where are the hotspots of UK tech? London, Manchester, Bristol or maybe Birmingham, right? But think again. This year’s Tech Nation report has confirmed that UK digital suburbs are alive and kicking, and are a critical mass that is driving up UK tech productivity.

Newbury, Aldershot, Stevenage, Slough and Burnley – what do they all have in common? All have above average levels of tech as a proportion of the wider local economy – these are just some of the tech towns that can be found across the UK.

This is significant, and dispels an often held view that digital businesses only exist in great numbers in our inner-city trendy neighbourhoods such as London’s Shoreditch and the Northern Quarter in Manchester. In fact, London and Manchester have below average levels of UK tech activity as a proportion of the entire local economy compared to the average across the country. Instead, the economic mix of business in these huge urban conurbations are diverse – not tech specialised, and often have higher concentrations of  other professional services firms, in financial services for example.

At the start of the Tech Nation report 2018 project, Newbury was just a series of numbers in a database table. I’d never been there, I’d only once been through the railway station. However, the small Berkshire town is unusually tech rich – it has more than 15 times the average level of digital tech compared to the wider UK.

When we explore the local economy this makes sense. The town is home of the UK HQ for both Vodaphone and Micro Focus, amongst other tech firms. In fact, Vodaphone employ so many people in the local economy that they provide free shuttle transport to and from their main campus for employees. The same can be said for Reading a few miles away with a digital density seven times higher than the national average. Global tech superpowers such as Oracle and Microsoft ensure tech are significant in the city’s economy, and provide super high levels of productivity.   

You can explore the visualisation of tech density and productivity across the UK here.

The M4: highway to high productivity

The analysis highlights the productivity power path – the tech pipeline of the M4 corridor. From Heathrow to Bristol, there is a continuous patchwork of Travel to Work Areas with above average digital density, and extremely high productivity. Tech workers in Newbury and Swindon both generate around £300k turnover per year. By contrast, Mancunian tech productivity sits at £102k, compared to a UK wide average of £99k.

In some ways, the economic conditions are perfect in this area, so the fact that there are tech firms flourishing there is unsurprising. The corridor is home to one of the world’s best-connected airports, fast and frequent transport links to the capital, a steady supply of top-quality talent and ample office space for large firms in outer-urban science parks.

The Tech Nation Report is now open

Some great news. All data featured in the 2018 Tech Nation Report is available online for non-commercial use by third parties.  The data can be accessed through the platform. If you use the data, please let us know. We would love to showcase your work.

If you’d like know why we are doing this, check out our blog.


Data & research, South West