Tech North, a government initiative designed to join up digital expertise across the North to form an internationally renowned virtual tech hub, has been criticised by the Labour party and digital entrepreneurs in the North of England for getting off to a slow start, the FT reports.
The initiative - set up largely to support the cities of Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland - was announced last October but is not officially launching until September 2015.
Chuka Unama, shadow business secretary, said: “The Tech North project was launched to great fanfare by Nick Clegg in Sheffield last year although progress has been slow and it is unclear whether this was anything more than a pet project which, after the election, ministers are now ignoring.”
The Tech North initiative, to be spearheaded out of Manchester's Northern Quarter, falls under Tech City UK. The government quango was set up by the prime minister in 2010 to support the digital startup scene in London’s trendy Shoreditch neighbourhood but its remit has since been expanded to cover the whole of the UK.
The Departure for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Tech North was created to catalyse the development of a thriving ecosystem for digital businesses in the north of England and has a £2 million annual budget, agreed for this year and for the next two financial years.”
Tech City UK has appointed eight of the 10-strong Tech North team including former ClearlySo CFO Claire Braithwaite and Herb Kim, CEO of the Thinking Digital tech conference. However, it is yet to reveal the initiative’s key performance indicators. It’s also unclear how much of the £2 million annual budget has been spent since last October.
The quango, once led by Baroness Joanna Shields, said it has taken a number of steps to ensure Tech North hits the ground running, including holding a series of local and regional engagement events to ensure it complements existing initiatives, as well as meeting influential and important individuals, organisations and businesses at a national and city level.
Further, the Tech North team has been supporting a number of existing regional initiatives that are already in place, with Tech City UK stating it has “engaged” with 400 people.
Derek Curtis, director of the software division of Cellular Solutions North East, which sells mobile phones and software services to small businesses, said Tech North is a "fantastic" idea before adding that he wasn't sure why it's taking so long.
The Tech North criticisms come as the government comes under increasing pressure to build a “northern powerhouse”.
Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, said: “The Tech North initiative has the full support of government and will be a key programme in the ongoing development of the Northern Powerhouse.
“The specific goal of the Tech North initiative is to accelerate the development of the North’s digital economy, catalysing innovation and driving productivity growth. Its remit is to deliver a strategy to attract talent, entrepreneurs and investment to northern cities.”
Additional funding for the North of England technology sector was announced during chancellor George Osborne's last budget when he pledged to donate £11 million of taxpayer money towards building startup incubators in the cities of Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. He said this funding would be met with £32 million from the private sector.