Yorkshire’s digital industry ‘fastest growing in the UK’ – but what does it mean to be ‘digitally prosperous’?

Kane Fulton, October 1, 2021 3 min read

Yorkshire-based tech leaders praised Leeds and the wider Yorkshire region for its welcoming nature and ability to connect businesses who are willing to collaborate, at a panel event at Leeds Digital Festival with MP Chris Philp, discussing two new government reports into the UK’s regional digital ecosystems.

Titled ‘Assessing the UK’s regional digital ecosystems’, the first report commissioned by DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), looks at regional growth in the digital economy.

It will be used to support the government’s work on levelling up so it can work with the sector to capitalise on untapped areas of potential and create more wealth and jobs.

It found that Yorkshire’s digital industry is the fastest growing in the UK and on track to create an extra 42,000 digital tech jobs and grow by at least £1.6bn by 2025.

Tech companies in the region have raised nearly £120m in the first eight months of the year, compared to £139m in the full year of 2020, the report shows. They have also raised 42 venture capital rounds so far in 2021, topping 2018’s record of 38.

‘Digital prosperity’

Reflecting on the figures, Tech Nation’s Client Engagement Director Liz Scott kicked off the panel event which was streamed live from Nexus Leeds by asking panellists to define ‘digital prosperity’.

Responses ranged from being able to access local talent, to being able to use data to solve systemic issues and bring together fragmented services – such as healthcare provision.

Increasing access to high-speed broadband was another. West Yorkshire was recently named as one of the areas set to benefit from the government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit – the biggest broadband rollout in British history

Around two-thirds (60%) of premises in the region now have access to next-generation gigabit-capable broadband, up from just 1.9% in September 2018.

UtterBerry CEO and founder Heba Bevan revealed that her Leeds-based company, which develops AI-driven smart sensors, is increasing digital prosperity by working with DCMS and other partners to introduce 5G into rural areas to increase efficiencies and reduce costs for farmers.

The panel agreed that education has a key role in enabling digital prosperity, starting with teaching about digital technologies at primary school and continuing up to (and beyond) university level.

Professor Jeff Grabill, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Leeds, acknowledged that universities need to “lower our high walls” to increase access to expertise and become lifelong learning resources, which he described as “a huge challenge that we are going to run at”.

“We have heard from these contributions just how broad and all-encompassing the concept of digital prosperity is,” said DCMS Minister Philp. “Its mission is to improve people’s lives and their businesses in every aspect.”

‘Battle for talent’

The Government also published a Local Digital Skills Partnerships report that evaluates the impact of six Local Digital Skills Partnerships (DSPs): Lancashire, Heart of the South West, West Midlands, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, Cheshire and Warrington and the South East.

It announced at the event that it is planning to fund and support an eight programme in Hull and East Yorkshire later this year.

Recent growth in digital sector jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber has been higher than the growth of any other region in the UK, increasing at an average of 8.2 per cent a year, according to DCMS’ report.

Companies on the panel named finding skilled hires as a constraint of growth. Kirsten Brumfitt, VP of People at Leeds-based online safety tech company Crisp, a Tech Nation Future Fifty 9.0 alumnus, said that her company finds itself in ‘a battle for talent’ despite growing its headcount by 72% in the past 12 months.

There was recognition that Yorkshire’s tech sector needs to work with education providers and local government in addition to universities to make more people aware of opportunities and fill the talent gap.

Leeds was praised for introducing accelerators such as the MIT Reap programme for startups in recent years. However, it was also said that more could be done to make business resources such as kickstart programmes and bootcamps more accessible to smaller enterprises.

Heba suggested that the pandemic has led to people being generally more accepting of technology, which could potentially increase the number of people willing to retrain to apply for roles in tech.

UtterBerry’s founder, who previously designed computer processors for ARM, called for more diversity in STEM-related roles and encouraged females to pursue engineering careers based on their strength of, “being very good at reading small and intricate details”.

Yorkshire