Today is a big day for the South West. Not just for tech businesses or their employees or aspiring entrepreneurs dreaming of setting up the next Google somewhere in this beautiful part of the country. No, today is a big day for the whole region -- its economy, its people and its future. It feels like the start of something.
As our story highlights, The South West Tech Analysis Report 2022, a landmark piece of research into the tech sector in the South West, is published and outlines the staggering opportunities for the region to take the lead in a multitude of future-defining industries. You can read the full report on the Tech South West website, but here are some of the standout findings:
- The South West of England’s tech sector is set to grow to almost £20bn gross value added (GVA) a year by 2026.
- In doing so, it will create more than 125,000 jobs.
- Cornwall has the fastest growing tech sector in the South West.
- With nearly 170,000 people working in the technology across the region, the South West's GVA per capita of £1,943 is the second highest in the UK when compared to all other regions outside London and the South East.
Why is this such a big moment? To start with, data is crucial to any aspiring centre of industrial excellence and this is the first time we’ve had high quality research covering the tech industry across the South West. It allows us to stake claims, make arguments and negotiate with confidence. This is particularly true when it comes to conversations about funding with politicians, local and national. The less wiggle room we give them, the less they will wiggle.
This links to a broader point. It is time the South West started to shout about its achievements, both actual and potential. The north of England has executed an effective PR campaign to convince politicians and most of the rest of the country that they are a special case, in need of more attention and more funding than other regions. That is not a criticism, but a recognition that the Northern Powerhouse campaign has worked and the South West must find a rallying cry of equal resonance because the risks of being left behind in the Levelling Up agenda are real.
The report published today and the ones that will follow are the foundation for growth and must be the focal point for creating a clear identity for the South West. To be clear, that is not to suggest a uniformity across the region. Our uniqueness is in the broad range of specialisms, from SpaceTech in Cornwall to climate science in Devon; engineering in Dorset to CleanTech in Somerset; cybertech in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire to the all-round tech powerhouse that is Bristol. But through these individual strengths, the South West must work together for a better future.
Clearly challenges lie ahead and we will examine them in more detail on SWTD in the next few weeks. Many of the potential problems lie around attracting and retaining talent at all levels. There is also a very clear dual-economy in the region, with Bristol at one end and what is referred to as the "deep South West" at the other.
But now is not the time to focus on the reasons why not. There have been plenty of attempts before to power up the South West's economy, but never have we been armed with such ammunition to state our case with confidence and clarity.
Peter Evans is a former reporter and editor at The Sunday Times and Wall Street Journal