‘Tech City’ Title Belongs To Manchester, Not Post-Olympics London

Cameron is a typical London-centric politician focusing on London with a bias against the North. It’s a bold plan trying to hype up the space down there as Britain’s answer to Silicon Valley. But Silicon Roundabout is only ever going to put investors in a spin.

We have the BBC up here in MediaCity, as well as Cisco and NetApp and global trading companies such as PZ Cussons, Co-operative Group and Umbro, Kelloggs, Adidas and Siemens. The North West boasts the second-largest ‘digital cluster’ in Europe.

Across Manchester, the creative and digital media sector employs 320,000 individuals in 32,000 businesses. No other European city region has invested more than Manchester with £3.5 billion on the largest purpose built sectoral hub in Europe, and more than £60m on the digital infrastructure.

Part of this landscape is the east Manchester based The Sharp Project (TSP), a 200,000 sq. content creation hub aimed at developing both start up and grow on digital entrepreneurs. Work has already begun on Sharp 2. Now that’s what I call a proper launch pad.

Start-ups in Manchester’s Tech City are showing typical annual growth rates of 50% as a norm. The blueprint has been laid to truly dominate by 2020 – and based on models such as New York and Singapore.

Ultimately, Manchester has all the top talent and a sensible cost infrastructure. Meanwhile, down on the ranch, London marches on with it’s smoke and mirrors display hauling in “famous” tech brands like Google, Microsoft and Facebook to campuses of worker-bees. Giant ‘front bedrooms’ will allow tech-types to come up with stuff. But it’s all just R&D stuff without an infrastructural backbone.

It’s becoming a car show room for multinational Internet superbrands who want a London postcode. But where does the hype meet reality? Like Facebook’s IPO being overcooked, the Tech City dream is a political ambition for big numbers of so-called investors and jobs, but the numbers simply don’t stack up.

Launched in November 2010 with generous tax breaks and start-up grants the Tech City five-mile slice of east London is essentially all mouth and no trousers. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Tech City has created 500 new jobs since inception.

Woopy dee doo!

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP – the world’s biggest advertising group – pointed out recently that there is no real strategy or plan for technology growth and the government is constantly blown off course by news events. Make as much noise as possible about how Tech City in London is ‘the way of the future’ and sign as many high profile tenants and it’s bound to work as a TV sound bite. Until something politically better comes along. Or there’s another Election.

Remember the Religious fervour Mr. Cameron had for the Big Society Project. “It’s my ambition in politics to make the Big Society succeed” he said. ‘Big Society? What Big Society?’ Some one must have told him how unpopular it was making him, and not a mention, virtually not even a whisper was made at the last Tory conference.

The problem is, beyond the façade, the businesses at work in Tech City in London are data-hungry heavyweights. Much higher capacity than is currently provided is needed to support a move into the Cloud from distance learning to e-Health, of which ANS is heavily involved with from Manchester and a satellite sales office in Tech City London. Does getting infrastructure into that postcode make any real economic sense? I think not.

Also, the latest networking technology is not easily accessible to startups in Tech City anyway. A recent study from the Think Tank Centre for London, showed a third of the interviewees described poor connectivity, such as high-speed internet availability as a business constraint in the Tech City footprint. In Manchester, Salford City Council, assisted by ANS Group, leads the way providing Cloud services for business start-ups.

Tomorrow’s technology must crucially be available today in the form of scalable fibre networks that can grow at the speed required by rapidly growing enterprises – but no one will press the ‘on’ switch in Tech City London. The government’s own politically correct broadband strategy has set out to improve the situation for rural areas and large cities – but won’t favour or emphasise tech hubs like Tech City.

Bizarre!

Ultimately Manchester can provide a lot better value for money and is much more attractive to foreign investors. Skyrocketing rents are forcing StartUps out of the Olympic Park area and ultimately this will drive away talent.

The reason Cameron won’t look reality straight between the eyes is because the budget blowout of the Olympics is hard to justify without a grand plan for ‘what happens next’. The Tech dream is just that, a dream however. The Coalition is not on the most solid ground. A different politician will see a different way to sell the space leaving everyone whose moved into the area high and dry.

The world’s first ever stored programme computer – called the Manchester Baby – ran the world’s first programme at Manchester University on 21st June 1948. Manchester is the rightful home of tech births, rapid growth and maturity.

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Scott Fletcher is a UK entrepreneur, heading up companies with a total valuation in excess of £50m. Scott founded what is now his largest business, ANS Group, from his back bedroom in 1996 at the age of 22. Scott has been named Entrepreneur of the Year for the North West at the National Business Awards, IOD Young Director of the Year and The PLUS Markets Chairman of the Year. Scott is also often turned to for comment by the media and is becoming known for his outspoken views on IT and business policies.