The UK today is recognized as a hotbed for the tech industry. What began in a small area of East London in the last decade has become a nationwide industry pulling together the country’s unique strengths in talent, entrepreneurship, and digital infrastructure. But with the future bright for Britain’s tech industry, which cities will win out on the race to become the country’s most successful tech hub?
London is the established winner in terms of numbers. The capital has become a magnet for Europeans and Brits alike for its healthy access to investor cash, central status for many digital industries, and full-fledged support from boroughs across the city map. But London’s success is ironically proving its worst problem. Costs of everything in the capital, especially office rents and salaries, have skyrocketed to never before seen highs and even as more affordable areas within the city open up as new tech centers, other British cities are greedily drawing away companies to with offers of similar resources and support at a fraction of London’s costs.
Cambridge and Oxford
Britain’s oldest university cities are increasingly costly but offer the some of the best of the UK’s graduate talent pools, fresh from their studies bursting with ideas, entrepreneurial gusto and enthusiasm!
These cities also leverage their business connections built over decades by former alumni of their colleges.
As well as being home to 2 of the worlds most respected universities, there are also many tech companies based here, including Arm Holdings, the largest tech company in the UK, which has its Head Quarters in Cambridge.
The location of Cambridge and Oxford provides easy access to the capital without the exorbitant costs that come with being London based and with much speculation and plans in place to connect these two academic cities as well as Northampton and Milton Keynes, this is set to be the UK’s leading growth corridor – Watch this space!
Edinburgh is Scotland’s tech success story. With a strong pool of talent from its universities and very affordable office space, the ancient city is helping to forge the future of tech with both start-ups and established players headquartering here. Most famous among them is Skyscanner, the travel booking sight that has changed the way people search for flights. Other key subsectors include software development and fintech. The city’s culture and quality of life could be key assets to make it the UK’s northern tech capital.
Manchester has also jumped on the tech train in a bid to be north England’s center for new industries. The city is a key example of the factors shaping the wider country’s development of the tech sector. The largest issue facing all these cities is talent; human capital simply has not kept pace with the industry’s growth and the cost of hiring has scuttled many new companies with the average tech salary in the country 40% higher than the average. Manchester recognizes this and is making the most of its cost of living edge over London. Property ownership is achievable for most tech employees and the city’s transport links and cultural life make the city attractive as well. Media companies in particular are being coaxed into the city.
The West Midlands is one of the largest new tech clusters in Britain, employing about 40,000 people in the wider region. The industry is growing in all directions in subsectors like web development, data, e-commerce, animation, and cloud computing. The tech campus Innovation Birmingham also provides support to tech start-ups and the city is making the most of its leading computer science programs. Birmingham is amongst the most entrepreneurial in the UK and is seeking to reinvent itself as a business and innovation hub. And, like Manchester, Birmingham is drastically cheaper than London with salaries going much further than the south of the country in the growing battle for fresh talent.
Who Will Win?
The upsurge of regional competition to Britain’s tech sector has been as fast as the industry’s dramatic rise to national prominence, and it’s difficult to say just what region will win the fight to rival London’s hold on the tech sector in a serious way. The long term trend of growth outside the capital is clear however, and set to gather further pace. As many tech industries are young or unestablished, we have yet to see clear signs of sector or niche-specific commitment to any one area, although a certain industry, like fintech, may have found fertile ground in many places so far.
A key determinant is the all-important talent pool that is not large enough to satisfy the industry’s need for labor. Which city can offer these workers the most attractive package of salary, home owning opportunities, and quality of life will likely emerge as the greatest winner in the current battle and as the most serious challenger to London as Britain’s tech hub.