The UK technology sector is booming again but most of this economic upturn is benefitting the established 'brain-economy' of London, the South East of England and the M4 corridor, a KPMG survey has found.
The analyst’s latest Tech Monitor plotted a heat map of technology workers and the firms that employ them using Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, finding that the country’s top 10 clusters are all concentrated in an incredibly small area to the west and south-west of London. All were within reach of the M4, M3 and M25 motorways, and Heathrow airport.
Within this, the towns of Wokingham, Rushmoor and Hart were particularly prominent with much higher levels of tech sector employment compared to the UK average.
Most of London’s boroughs also scored well, as did Cambridge and its surrounds, although KMPG found that the much-vaunted startup Tech City area around London’s Old Street didn’t score as highly as expected. This could be explained by ONS data used to compile the numbers underestimating startups if they weren’t registered for VAT, the firm said.
The focus on tech weakens dramatically the further north you go. Large parts of England scored below average levels of employment in tech sector firms, with Scotland propping up the bottom of the table with a tech location quotient of only 0.4 compared to the South East’s 1.66.
Although some Scotland’s under-performance might also be down to the ONS data (Scotland has unusually high levels of university tech transfer activity for example and a thriving startup scene in Edinburgh), it’s clear that technology firms cluster around good transport links, proximity to markets, high levels of skilled workers and, to some extent, finance expertise and markets. For the UK, that means in or near London.
It also suggests that the rising importance of technology firms to the UK economy will not directly benefit large parts of the UK that could desperately do with the jobs and economic activity.
This matters because KPMG also found confidence levels in this sector are high and rising, as well as plotting a degree of resilience in tech companies to economic downturns. Put another way, when rising and falling employment trends are looked at the last decade (see above graph), tech firms fire fewer people in downturns and hire more in upturns, reinforcing the long-term increase in the sector’s importance.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, our report identifies the South East as the key region for technology clusters,” observed KPMG head of technology, Tudor Aw. “The findings clearly highlight the link between investing in transport infrastructure and attracting businesses and therefore driving growth in the UK economy,” he said.
“Importantly, it shows that the UK tech sector has generated solid rates of job creation over the last four years and that it has consistently outpaced other UK private sectors in creating jobs since the global financial crisis in 2008/09.”
Optimism was at the highest level since the start of the recession in 2009, he said.
On the other hand, KPMG’s Global Technology Innovation survey from earlier this year reported that only 1 percent of its 811 respondents believed the UK had the potential to deliver a disruptive technological breakthrough when compared to the US or China. The tech sector might be important nationally, but making it a global player will be a separate battle.