When it comes to the digital economy, politicians and businesses cannot afford to prioritise some parts of the North, and ignore others.
While the politics are always complicated, the case for the Northern Powerhouse has never been clearer. Supporting growth beyond the South East by focusing on infrastructure development, local decision-making and skills not only offers huge economic potential but is the right thing to do in an economy – and a society – that has been too focused around a few London postcodes.
But there’s a real risk that, without a careful approach, we’ll replicate those old mistakes, with those areas well-placed for investment continuing to grow, while others are left behind and out of scope for the new economy.
When it comes to the digital economy – a business environment in which tech and digitally focused companies are able to grow – this risk is even higher. There’s a perception that “tech” jobs exist only for London millennials who never set foot outside of Shoreditch, or for academics moving between London, Oxford and Cambridge. These images could hardly be further from stereotypes of “left behind” towns in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
But why should good, future-proofed jobs be the preserve of the South? Northern communities deserve to benefit from new opportunities created through massive investment and government support. The country’s creative industries sector is growing twice as fast as the economy as a whole, and employment in digital businesses rose by 13.2 per cent from 2014 – 2017. The jobs which are being created are well-paid, with roles requiring tech skills having higher than average salaries.
There’s a risk of speaking about the “North” as if it’s one entity, whereas the truth is more complicated. There have been some big changes in urban areas such as Manchester and Leeds, where digital hubs have been established and where there are good prospects for future growth.