UK government fears a cross-country divide as a £6 million taxpayer funded initiative to boost northern tech startups is rolled out, according to a leaked business plan from Tech City UK.
TechNorth is billed as a “superconnector” that will bridge the North South divide. Created by Baroness Joanna Shields - Tech City UK head and David Cameron’s right hand woman for all things digital. The programme has been allocated £6 million in funding over the next three years (up to £2 million per year).
However, in a leaked report seen by TechWorld, TechNorth has highlighted “backlash from other communities outside of Tech North (e.g. Bristol) if they feel they are being marginalised” as a risk.
TechNorth’s roll out has been criticised for its slow progress, failure to hire enough senior leaders and a “lack of strategy” by a digital startup guru who is based in one of the cities the campaign aims to support.
To avoid risk of creating even more division amongst UK tech clusters, which include Cambridge; Bristol and Bath; Bournemouth and Poole and Oxford, amongst others, it must “ensure support and resources for Cluster Alliance initiatives are maintained”, the report stated.
How much is in the pot?
Tech City UK will receive £2.2 million from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for 2015-2016, according to its website. It also “complements a small percentage of our funding through sponsorship.” With an equal allocation set aside for TechNorth already, there could be a smaller pot for clusters like Bristol.
Bristol, however, could be about to become one of the most important ‘Internet of Things’ testbeds in the world thanks to its investment in software defined networking (SDN). The smart city, 'Bristol is Open', is funded by Bristol University and Bristol City Council as well as national and European government; academic and private donors.
Its software-defined network, the first of its kind in a smart city, is being engineered by a team of University of Bristol’s researchers and led by high performance networks professor, Dimitria Simeonidou. It is already gathering city data in a centralised platform that third parties can access to create better services, and apps, for Bristolians.
Crucially, as it is software-defined (as opposed to traditional networking methods), the network engineers can slice up bandwidth capacity dependant on a service (like connected buses for example) or an app developer’s needs. This ensures there will be enough bandwidth to serve such a digital infrastructure.
Arguably, Bristol is putting the UK on the world’s technology stage, attracting foreign investment and proving that Britain is a force to be reckoned with, yet it will get a smaller piece from the Tech City funding pot for the next three years.
Paul Wilson, managing director at Bristol Is Open commented on the potential risks Tech City highlighted in its business plan. He said: "It’s important that the UK continues to foster digital leadership, and support clusters of talent wherever they have enough size to make a difference internationally."