Could the UK’s Digital Economy benefit from a Rebalancing?

In a UK that’s had little to be cheery about since of the onset of the credit crisis, Tech City’s proven a rare positive story for coalition MP’s to point the electorate to. Boasting near 16,000 new companies set up within its borders in just 2012 alone and with tech titans increasingly eyeing up European HQ’s in the area, it’s undeniable that the campaign to transform this area of London hasn’t had a positive impact – Shoreditch now a burgeoning tech hub which appears to have a bright future.

As such, more government money is being pledged to develop Tech City further, £50 million set to be invested into a scheme to regenerate Old Street Roundabout and its surrounding areas.  ‘The largest civic space in Europe’ is what Cameron intends to create – ‘a place for start-up companies and the local community to come together and become the next generation of entrepreneurs’.

Whilst commendable aims it’s impossible not to feel a little irked outside of the capital, that kind of digital investment and recognition something we can only dream of. I write from Brighton – a small city 60 miles south of London – which continues to work away and serve up excellent digital businesses, without a fraction of that investment or a morsel of media attention.

Despite being home to global companies like Brandwatch, Madgex and my rapidly expanding employers Crunch, we’re continually left to fight and clamour for any sort of digital investment, a recent battle for city-wide super-fast broadband amongst those we’ve had to endure.

In contrast Tech City appears to have turned into a government pet project, money thrust upon it despite the needs of our regional tech hubs (that’s not to say Tech City businesses didn’t have to fight in the beginning, as Mike Butcher explains in this excellent Tech Hub article here). Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle – there’s a an array of further regional cities with outstanding digital potential, offering highly skilled workforces that could build a true tech economy, not one that’s heavily reliant on London and digital companies based in the capital.

In Cambridge 12 tech companies have achieved $1bn (£642m) valuations in the past 15 years, the combined turnover of digital cluster recorded at £11.8bn in 2011. This puts the city among the most successful tech clusters in Europe – what’s to say similar initiatives like those drove Tech City’s growth can’t be equally as fruitful here?

Manchester, meanwhile, has become a mobile app mecca, whilst Bristol and Bath are playing a key part in the building of a ‘Silicon Gorge’.  Elsewhere, in the north-east, Newcastle is in the first stages of sculpting a tech hub, start-ups making strides that’ll make it a leading digital city.

Away from the glitz and glamour of the nation’s capital, our regional tech hubs are toiling away, but consistently Tech City takes the headlines and much of the investment, too. To my mind, the government’s missing an excellent opportunity. Get it right and invest wisely and the government has the chance to change our economy, shifting it from one that’s so dependent on the Square Mile. As the credit crisis showed we need an economy that’s more balanced, and where better could this GDP come from than our array of digital cities?

Nobody’s expecting lavish investment – especially given the deficit – we’re just asking for the field to be levelled out a bit. Getting the Tech City Investment Organisation to be a little less London-centric would be start, their assertion that they ‘recognise and support the other technology clusters around the UK’ yet to be backed up by action. Dividing up that £50million earmarked for Shoreditch would be a wiser move than the current plan, our assorted tech hubs getting an equal share of the pie to develop and build digital infrastructure. Depressingly though, it’s something that I’ll doubt we’ll ever see happen, our regional cities again expected to fight and fend for ourselves.

Whilst Cameron and his cabinet have created something special in Shoreditch, it’s now time they set about doing the same across the wider UK. If you’ll pardon the pun, this just won’t cut it.