Will the 2020 UK Budget deliver for Northern Tech?

Almost two thirds (65%) of tech professionals don’t expect the anticipated Budget announcement to deliver for the Northern Tech economy, compared to the investment and growth experienced in London and the South East, according to research from global technology recruiter, Harvey Nash.

Many are sceptical that there will be any significant impact in the Northern Tech scene for at least three to four years, with a third (34%) stating that it could take over five years for any extra investment to start making a difference.

At the same time, tech professionals have questioned the positive impact of HS2, which was given the green light last month, amidst concerns from an official review that costs could reach over £100 billion. And, only half believe that the Northern tech sector will benefit from infrastructure spending projects such as HS2.

Instead, over half of tech professionals say it’s just as important that the government focuses on locally targeted investments — 84% of tech professionals stated that it’s important or very important that region specific tax cuts/incentives are offered to tech companies operating in the North.

The research undertaken in the lead up to tomorrow’s Budget also found that over two thirds (72%) of tech professionals believe that diverting the huge investment in HS2 towards tech specific projects, such as delivering high speed broadband to the Northern region or increasing digital skills across the region, will have a greater influence and impact on the tech sector.

Will the 2020 UK Budget deliver for Northern Tech? The results:

• Tech professionals sceptical about the positive impact of HS2.
• HS2 won’t improve access to tech skills.
• The region’s tech sector is being held back as a result of a lack of talent.
• Northern tech companies need more region-specific tax cuts/incentives.

Commenting on the results, Bev White, CEO of Harvey Nash Group, said: “The anticipated announcement in tomorrow’s Budget that the North will receive additional investment (even if full details follow at a later date) is a positive thing for the region, and much better than no investment at all. But our research shows that, alongside major infrastructure investments, we need to ensure there is a targeted approach focused around the Tech Hubs in the region. This will help support innovative startups and scaleups through the next stage of their growth, driving economic activity and helping the region achieve its full potential.”

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HS2 won’t improve access to tech skills

Recruiting tech talent in the North has become increasingly difficult over the last decade.

The Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey recently found that despite Manchester (2nd) and Leeds (7th) featuring in the top ten best UK cities for digital technology in June 2019, all are reporting major tech skills shortfalls.

This shortfall in tech talent in the North is having a negative impact on the sector, with the survey finding that the vast majority of tech professionals (85%) feel the region is being held back as a result of a lack of talent. At the same time, almost six in ten (59%) don’t believe HS2 will improve access to skills in the North.

What can be done to improve tech skills in the North?

The tech professionals surveyed by Harvey Nash highlighted three main areas that need to be focused on to make the North a more attractive option for skilled tech professionals:

• Improve transport infrastructure between cities (69%).
• Provide more government investment to promote the North as a Tech Hub (65%).
• Provide focused investment to develop homegrown tech talent around key skill shortage areas such as big data/analytics and cyber security.

“HS2 will undoubtedly help businesses that are already working together to be more effective and efficient in the future. The greater connectivity it creates will be good for the North. But in parallel with this huge investment, we also need to promote the North as a centre of tech excellence in its own right so as to attract more skilled professionals to the region.

“At the same time, increasing the focus on developing tech skills locally will help the Northern economy become stronger and grow in a more sustainable way,” added White.

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A digitally literate workforce

Commenting on how to train a digitally literate workforce, across the UK, Matt Eckersall — regional director, EMEA North, Sub-Sahara and South Africa at SUSE — said: “With the nature of work undergoing a fundamental shift, it is important that the government helps businesses to re-skill workers so that they can participate in the digital economy. If the government were to extend the Apprenticeship Levy further so as to incentivise the learning of new technology skills, this would be a great step in the right direction.

“The issue of re-skilling the UK’s workforce is not only one of economic importance. Failure to enfranchise people in the global digital economy is going to deepen the societal divides the UK government has pledged to close. The diversity and strength of the open source community demonstrates that people from all backgrounds can find fulfilment in the technology sector, and we hope to see this success replicated across the UK economy with the support of the government.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...