Tech City UK's Joanna Shields says Britain must widen digital development outside of London

Tech City UK chairman and UK ambassador for digital industries Joanna Shields has said Britain must stop comparing digital industries throughout the UK to London and widen its focus in order to grow international presence.

Comments: Joanna Shields

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Shields said the UK was well on its way to becoming a “digital powerhouse” and noted London’s “phenomenal” growth in tech and digital business. Between 2009 and 2012, 83,000 jobs were created in the tech and digital industry, and the number of companies in the sector increased from 50,000 to 88,000.

But she added that the UK’s digital economy as a whole – which represents nearly 10 per cent of GDP at £145bn - was in need of action to push it further.

“We’re at a definitive moment,” she wrote. “We can realise our ambitions and become the world’s leading digital capital but we must act fast.

“First, all of our major cities need to become global leaders in their own right. Every city has unique capabilities and can become a platform for attracting global talent and investment. We’ve been looking at our cities through the wrong lens by comparing them to London. We need to stop doing that.

“We need to focus on the global opportunities for our businesses all across the country. We have created a new network to align the nation’s digital hubs, the UK Cluster Alliance, and this will support and promote local digital hubs in this pursuit.”

Shields said support for growth-stage companies must continue, and the UK should be “relentless” in the development and adaption of incentives and policies to help entrepreneurs.

“Our support measures have keep pace with new market developments and challenger business models,” she continued. “Regulations and rules must also move with the times and allow entrepreneurs to unlock new opportunities for enterprise, as embodied by the sharing economy and social platforms and business models.”

Shields welcomed the addition of computer programming to the national curriculum in primary schools starting from September, but said more should be invested into encouraging the next generation and emphasising that digital skills are “the currency of tomorrow”.

“For Britain to succeed we need to ensure the continued growth and acceleration of the digital and tech expertise that exists all across the UK,” she added. “If we do that, we can go from London being the digital capital of Europe to the UK being the world’s digital capital and the best place to start and grow a business.”

Shields stood down from her role as CEO of Tech City UK in January, although she remains heavily involved with the organisation in her chairman and ambassador role. She also holds a non-executive position at the London Stock Exchange.

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