Mayors could help boost tech sector
The introduction of directly-elected mayors representing whole city regions should be considered to boost the development of the technology sector outside of London and the South East, according to a new report.
Further investment is needed by the coalition in rail and road infrastructure to improve the speed of transport connections between northern cities and help "unleash" the region's economic potential, a paper by the Policy Exchange think tank has said.
The report - entitled Silicon Cities - How Can Government Support The Development Of Tech Clusters Outside London And The South East To Maximise Private Sector Job Growth? - argued that directly-elected mayors could work with local enterprise partnerships and local authorities to nurture the growth of technology hubs in other parts of the country, particularly in the north of England.
It concluded more should be done to "support entrepreneurs, reform visas, encourage better use of intellectual property and improve transport links between northern cities".
The report outlined a series of challenges currently facing northern towns and cities including a "brain drain" from the north, a lack of local leadership, access to finance as well as slow journey times.
It found more than third of graduates from major universities leave the North East (37%) and North West (36%) while as many as 55% leave Yorkshire and the Humber. The figures for STEM subjects were 35%,34% and 52% respectively, it added, with those from the top ranked universities leaving in higher numbers.
It also highlighted a geographical mismatch between business communities and the areas over which Local Enterprise Partnerships have responsibility with as many as 37 local authorities covered by more than one LEP.
The report found the average speed of journeys from Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield to London was 77.6mph, in contrast with an average speed between those northern cities of just 46mph, acting as a barrier to investment.
The report underlined the importance of the technology sector having access to a strong base of skilled workers and recommended that universities should be encouraged to let students retain Intellectual Property of products, ideas and services created during their studies.
It also urged the Government to work with the technology industry to "make the case" for greater levels of immigration from highly skilled migrants working in the sector.
The report's co-author, Eddie Copeland, said: "The technology industry is bringing considerable benefits to the UK economy but it is failing to live up to the Chancellor's wish for it to benefit every corner of the country. The question for policy makers is how to extend the sector's benefits to other regions, especially England's northern cities so we can create 'Silicon Sheffield' or 'Silicon Sunderland'.
"The Government does not need to subsidise the cost of doing business in the North - it is already significantly cheaper than London.
"What technology businesses do want is local political leadership with the power and accountability to be responsive to their needs. It is time for the Government to put rocket boosters under the idea of directly-elected mayors. They are best suited to understanding the distinctive challenges facing their locality."
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "The Government is putting ever more power and money into the hands of local authorities so they make the decisions over spending on infrastructure and businesses support for their local area.
"We recently announced the first wave of growth deals and £6 billion of local projects that will bring transport improvements, superfast broadband and thousands of new homes. This is a big step in rebalancing our economy to all four corners of the country."