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EY report outlines the digital opportunity for Northern economic growth

A report published today by EY has outlined recommendations for action that will ensure Northern businesses maximise the benefits of digital technologies to drive business transformation and economic growth.

EY’s United Through Tech report, supported by The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, gives six recommendations based on the findings of its ‘Innovation Sprint’ – a series of workshops held across the North towards the end of last year.

EY’s Innovation Sprint collected qualitative information from around 100 business leaders, entrepreneurs, academics, investors and market influencers to understand how business communities can better utilise digital technologies to unlock business and economic growth.

Little progress has been made on bridging the productivity gap between the economies of the North and the South and EY research* forecasting Manchester as one of the UK’s strongest performing cities to 2021 makes the city an exception.

Its forecast GVA (gross value added) growth came a very close second to Reading, whose dominance in the information & communications sector is noteworthy. The sector accounts for almost a quarter of Reading’s total GVA and it is forecast to expand by 3.5% annually over the next three years, underlining the opportunity digital and technology presents for future economic growth.

The findings and recommendations of the United Through Tech report reflect what Northern businesses are experiencing and what their leaders say is required for the North is to make the most of the growth opportunities presented by next Industrial Revolution.

The report’s six recommendations are:

-Digital champion

Appoint a single, inspirational Northern voice and figurehead who represents the North’s digital agenda.

-Central point for signposting

Create a central, comprehensive point for signposting, with links to tech education and support resources, events and services.

-Best practice forum

Connect across ecosystems to drive effective collaboration by creating a formal forum for Northern businesses to share knowledge and best practice.

-Institutional connectivity

Leverage the Northern Powerhouse brand to articulate the story of the North as a centre for world-class innovation on a national and international level.

-Centres of excellence network

Create and support a dedicated network of Northern centres of technological excellence and nurture a community culture between these centres.

-Educational accountability

Universities should consult with businesses in their region on the delivery of course content and report on where former students who enter the workplace are based to demonstrate what the university is giving back to its local community.

Stephen Church, EY Partner and project leader, said: “There is significant enthusiasm for what we want to help achieve, in terms of making sure individual cities are listened to whilst also try and lift the conversation to leverage the power of a more cohesive North.

“We have reignited the conversation about the North’s digital ask. This means giving the North a single voice and the clout it needs when talking to the powers that be in Whitehall.”

Chris Gallagher, EY Partner and chief innovation officer for advisory, said: “The Innovation Sprint demonstrated that there’s clearly some great things going on in the North, and there is a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm. But there’s a need to articulate what we’re doing better and be more distinctive in how we describe the fantastic innovations happening across the North.

“There is also a need for businesses and organisations to better connect and collaborate on this agenda across North if we are to see tangible benefits that translate to real change and economic growth.”

Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison said: “Digital is one of the prime capabilities of the Northern Powerhouse – a sector where we lead the UK and, with the right investment, government backing and business collaboration, could become world-leading. This will unlock the skilled jobs of the future we need to kickstart our economy, helping to rebalance the economy and narrow the North-South divide.

“EY bringing together businesses of all sizes to focus on the key issues around digital is a welcome first step to creating a digital agenda for the Northern Powerhouse, and we will work with them and other leading businesses to explore these recommendations and how we ensure we capitalise on some of the world-class innovation in the Northern Powerhouse.

“Ensuring the North leads the coming Industrial Revolution, embedding technology, data and information in everything we do, is crucial for continuing economic growth and we need to support our businesses in how they adopt emerging technologies such as 3d printing, robotics, machine learning and AI.

“These issues, alongside may others such as transport, education and skills, will be addressed by business and civic leaders at the Great Northern Conference – a major event five years on from the launch of the Northern Powerhouse.”


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