A think-piece by our co-chair Mo Isap, about the Greater Manchester Digital Strategy, and what the future holds for our innovative and thriving digital industry.

Big enough to make a difference. Collaborative enough to work together. Driven enough to make things happen:

“This is an incredibly exciting time for Greater Manchester. It is not only regularly topping league tables for being a great place to live but our creative, tech and digital economy is booming. We have a thriving and rapidly expanding £5BN digital ecosystem with inward investment, home grown successes and strong social mission. In fact we were voted the UK’s Top Tech Town in the CompTIA Tech Towns Index 2019.

A wide range of the global brands working here do so to take advantage of the city-region’s liveability. Talented people want to work here, attracted by a vibrant cultural scene, good transport links, access to the countryside and a 40% lower cost of living than the capital.

Employment growth is strong and the future is bright: a growing skills base, significant rises in business start-ups, and major digital and physical infrastructure investments are underway. The first commercial 5G network was available in Salford’s MediaCityUK which is itself a hotbed of creative and digital innovation. But it is more than that – we often reflect on the fact that we are “big enough to make a different, small enough to know each other and driven enough to make things happen”. We are proud of the innovative forms of cooperation between private, academic and public sector which powers new developments and thinking and provides effective leadership for the Northern Powerhouse, the UK, and globally in many areas

With the election of a first elected Mayor for Greater Manchester, six devolution deals have been signed with government, giving us greater local influence over billions of pounds of spending and the means of creatively finding solutions to national issues.

But we know we need to go further and work smarter. Last year we agreed a ground breaking Local Industrial Strategy for Greater Manchester which pioneers a new model for sustainable economic growth based around a more connected, talented and greener city region, where all residents are able to contribute to and benefit from sustained prosperity and a good quality of life. Implementation of that plan is underway and there is a particular focus on leveraging our globally significant assets such as MediaCityUK and the enormously expansion of our cyber and digital security sector which has accompanied the arrival of GCHQ.

Earlier in 2020 we launched our refreshed Greater Manchester Digital Strategy as a new Digital Blueprint for the city region. This is a plan for doing digital differently. Our philosophy is “ecosystem first and collaborative” – for example we want to support commercial initiatives that are addressing digital exclusion not duplicate that effort. Only by working together can we achieved our shared ambitions for the city region with the concept of collaboration at the heart of our approach. And challenging traditional ways of thinking and doing is vital. Diversity is a key driver of innovation and a critical component of being successful on the global stage.

The blueprint aims to solidity our position as a leading European digital city region; both support new high tech companies and improve the productivity of more traditional businesses; and capitalise on the links between digital and creative industries that feed internationally significant clusters in broadcasting, content creation and media, and maximise growing assets in cyber security.

Whilst digitally driven change is inevitable it presents a great opportunity for cultural and business development that can enable businesses to thrive. Through work with the Growth Company and with all the councils in Greater Manchester we are supporting businesses of all sizes with the means and skills to transform their business through digital in an inclusive, ethical and sustainable way and make the most of the opportunities that brings. With a vibrant and culturally diverse community, the excitement around the region means that when the right people, with the right skills and talent, arrive in the city, they stay and thrive.

Being a responsible and ethical business is increasingly important and we launched the Good Employment Charter as a commitment to being better employers and doing better business and encouraging a diverse and inclusive workforce is vital to being better, driving world-class innovation and standing out. So it is vital to this cause that businesses commit to hiring through non-traditional routes and from people from diverse backgrounds to ensure our workforce represents the society we live in. It’s important to challenge workplace culture to promote inclusion, so businesses can hire, train and importantly, retain the diverse talent they hire.

This access to fantastic talent is driving start-ups to choose the city as an ideal location to begin their business journey, but also more established national and international brands are seeing Manchester as a great place to set up new bases and trial new ideas. We have over 60 co-working spaces in Greater Manchester and more than 10 accelerator programmes often linked with universities and large corporates. Companies like GCHQ, BBC, Barclays, Virgin Media and Microsoft have chosen to open significant bases in Manchester, ahead of any other UK city and are directly involved in shaping our collective future. But it is the diversity and breadth of innovation of the companies here, as well as the liveability that has lead to Manchester being the biggest tech cluster outside of London – and that is set to grow.

Skills and access to talent is a perennial hot topic and is an area in which we are investing through programmes such as Go Digital, Digital Futures and the Fast Track Digital Skills Fund. The former are working with schools to increase longer terms supply and the latter – together with amazing work by organisations like Barclays, Lloyds, North Coders and Good Things Foundation – driving more immediate opportunities. Demand for re-skilling opportunities is clearly there. One joint training initiative with the BBC received 23,000 applications in a single week from women looking for ways into digital.

This shows that we have so much going on – to not only recognize the talent that we need to drive our digital agenda in Greater Manchester but also help shape accessible pathways into work and industry. And how significant and varied the impact will be, and not just economically.

Our ambition is for Greater Manchester to become a global digital influencer, taking its position as an internationally-recognised centre of digital innovation, research and practice as it did in previously industrial revolutions. By working in partnership with the private, academic public and not-for-profit sectors, we will realise this vision.

As we embark on the next phase of our digital journey, there really is no better time to live, work and invest in Greater Manchester. We want Greater Manchester to be a world-class leading digital city and we’re putting our people at the heart of our plans, addressing gaps and building the infrastructure and culture to encourage world-class innovation. And we recognizes that we can only achieve our ambitions if we work together to promote progress.”

Mo Isap – co chair GMLEP