As a nation, we've found ourselves in somewhat of giddy position. We're experiencing the fastest growing economy in the G7 and our digital industries are at the heart of this growth story. As a result, we're recognised as a global location of choice for tech organisations and digital talent alike. Perhaps we may even dare to think we'll give Silicon Valley a run for its money.
Much of this excitement has been fuelled by the hugely successful East London tech cluster and rightly so. Investment activity across the capital has increased by 20 times over the last five years and over a quarter of million of the city's population are within 'digital employment'. My personal feeling is that this constant focus on Tech City has monopolised the conversation. I'd even go as far to say that this area of East London has benefitted at the expense of the rest of the country.
About a year ago, I was kindly invited to give a talk at Silicon Beach - a thriving 2-day seaside conference held in Bournemouth, with a focus on tech creativity and innovation. I jumped at the chance. Growing up in Bournemouth, it gave me the opportunity to talk about the rapidly growing tech clusters outside of London, some of the brilliant people involved and organisations like Tech City UK, who are stimulating developments.
The theme has stuck with me and over the last 12 months it's been motivating to see the total UK technology sector evolve further. It is predicted to outperform all other occupation categories by 2020 and currently employs 1.5m people. With close to 80% of the companies driving this explosive development based outside of London, it's wise for anyone currently working in the tech sector to pay close attention to the growing pools of talent and expertise outside of the capital.
I'm excited by this hugely positive shift in conversation from the London biased 'Tech City' narrative to a more expansive one of a 'tech nation'. Cities as diverse as Cardiff and Newcastle, Bournemouth and Leeds now boast rapidly expanding digital economies that in some cases are outperforming the capital. The time has come to shine a light on these successful clusters and explore the prospects they offer for UK talent, business and investors, as well as measure their contribution to our domestic output.
Tech Nation, a report released at the beginning of 2015 and currently being updated for 2016, comments on the UK's 'Cluster Brain'. With the help of the team at Tech City UK, these exciting hubs of innovation across the country are beginning to talk to each other. The report identifies 21 growing clusters. The real question is how can we turbo-charge these nascent connections?
There's only so much Government bodies can achieve, however hard they work. Cities need to forge deep links with other tech clusters across the country on their own terms. We need genuine regional collaboration, assisted by policy and powered by people. We need people with an interest in breaking out of their individual regions and operating as one. We need shared talent and knowledge that will further set us apart as a true 'tech nation'.
But who are these people? It's here that I'd propose the need for a brand new civic role - a tech Mayor for each cluster, or perhaps more suitably named, a "Meta Mayor". These elected custodians would be responsible, as a collective, for ensuring the country makes the most of its combined digital intellect and strengthens our ability to take on the world.
These people should be master networkers, constantly driven to creating new connections, sharing knowledge and help working toward a true tech nation, instead of a collection of clusters. They will represent and champion regional successes, talents and its capabilities. Furthermore, they would celebrate regional initiatives and activities that would benefit from being exposed on a wider national stage.
A Meta Mayor Meet up also appeals. A quarterly event hosted at alternative locations around the country and designed to further deepen regional relationships and inspire everyone involved.
I'm looking forward to the results of the next Tech Nation report. I'm certain it will illustrate as equally an optimistic picture of a wired UK nation as the last. My main interest however, will be searching for the people behind the success stories and wondering if they'd be part of the first 'chamber' of Meta Mayors. In order to get the ball rolling, I propose Matt Desmier, founder of Silicon Beach. He would make an excellent Meta Mayor for Bournemouth & Poole. Vote Matt!