The Manchester tech scene has blasted plans to unite technology industries across the region and create the UK’s very own Silicon Valley.
TechNorth, which falls under the Lib Dem’s Northern Futures initiative, was announced yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The initiative aims to ‘co-ordinate the existing digital technology expertise of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle to create an internationally renowned virtual agency’.
It is the government’s latest attempt at creating the UK’s very own Silicon Valley, a digital hub in San Francisco home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations.
However, the world’s though many within the northern tech scene are highly sceptical, claiming it’s fundamentally flawed.
“It’s bloody stupid and honestly, they should stop talking about TechNorth,” Tim Langley, CEO and co-founder of Canddi, a Manchester-based big-data analytics firm, told MM.
“It’s a bit like having a policy called ‘Tech South America’. The differences between Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool are huge.
“To clump everything together under the label of ‘the North’, as if we’re all just one entity, smells like Westminster thinking rather than practical thinking about those who are here on the ground.
“I think if Nick Clegg wants to actually help Northern tech firms to grow he should actually come up here and speak with us, rather than just producing a nice headline for the papers.”
Another Manchester tech entrepreneur, Tom Cheesewright also had his reservations.
Mr Cheesewright, founder of Book of the Future, said: “My concern is that this will become a vehicle for a load of money being spent by the wrong people in the wrong way.
“I’d like to see some practical things being done like improving transport links but I’m not sure this scheme will do that.
“It would be churlish not to welcome help for firms like ours in Manchester but this does feel a bit like a typical top-down government policy.”
TechNorth was designed to imitate Tech City, an initiative spawned in 2010 which was hugely successful in fostering a surge in startups in East London.
But whereas Tech City focused on a single area in London, the Lib Dems’ policy will aim to tie together firms in five very different cities.
Emma Vandore, who authored a research paper last year looking into the success of Tech City, told MM that the geography of the policy might be an issue.
She said: “There might be some issues with the distances between each city. Perhaps Leeds isn’t that far from Manchester, but Newcastle certainly is.
“And I’m not sure how much contact people in each city have with each other.
“TechNorth will only be successful if it makes sense at a local level. I actually think this scheme might be designed only to bring in foreign investment, rather than to help local-level businesses.
Ms Vandore also said that Tech City was unsuccessful, and that just throwing money at an area alone wouldn’t be enough to create the next Silicon Valley.
She said: “In East London there were companies already there. But what the government did so was to shine a light on what was happening and encouraged media attention.
“All governments want their own Silicon Valley, but you can’t just create one. You have to look at what’s already happening and foster that.
“I’m not sure exactly what TechNorth is aiming to do in that regard.”
Image courtesy of Patrick Nouhailler, with thanks.