Guy Currey, Director, Invest North East England
Guy Currey, Director at Invest North East England
Invest North East England

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Digital Tech – a powerful force for UK growth (as well as my sons’ inter-personal development)

I’ve just had an amazing week at work where the ever increasing importance to the UK of the digital tech sector in its various guises has been truly underlined.

I’m writing this on the train back to Newcastle from London where last night I had the pleasure to attend the TIGA awards. TIGA is the Independent Games Developers’ Association and it held its glittering awards ceremony at the V&A.

Invest North East England sponsored the award for the Best Independent Studio (Large). It was a great pleasure to present the award to Rebellion, a fabulous studio based in Oxford which is developing some incredible digital games (the one on show last night looking particularly gory – something my sons adore - more of that later.)

I was attending the awards with a couple of excellent North East companies who were helping me to spread the word about the incredibly vibrant gaming and virtual and augmented reality scene in the North East. Atomhawk, provides world-class digital art and design services to many of the world’s top games developers, and Pocket Money Games is a serial developer of world-wide best-selling VR games.

It was a great night highlighting the strength of the sector in the UK. The digital gaming industry is just one component of the UK’s booming digital sector, which, according to data from Tech City UK has grown by 30% in the last five years. The Tech Nation 2017 report shows that digital-tech now contributes £97bn to the UK economy, with more than 1.6m people estimated to be employed in the UK’s digital-tech scene.

The UK is Europe’s centre for digital tech. It continues to be the number one destination in Europe for foreign direct investment (FDI) which plays a very important part in maintaining the UK’s competitive edge. Department of International Trade (DIT) figures show that in 2016/17 the UK landed 533 FDI projects in this sector which created over 14,000 new jobs. 29% of these investments came from the USA.

Not surprisingly, over 60% of these projects landed in Europe’s digital tech hotspot, London. However, the Tech Nation report highlighted that opportunities for those with the right digital tech skills exist all over the country, not just in London, and digital tech inward investment is benefiting many of the UK’s major cities. The report highlighted the contribution of two of our cities, Newcastle and Sunderland, which together have a combined digital GVA of £1.1bn and have supported the nation’s growth within digital and tech.

Another recent publication, this time the Smart Cities report, notes that Newcastle, home to the UK’s largest software company, Sage, is now the second fastest growing city in the UK for digital and tech jobs.

North East England’s reputation for digital technology is being further enhanced through the development of a new £30m National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) that aims to see the next Google or Facebook started in the UK. The Centre, which is being built at Science Central in Newcastle, will aim to link together leading academic talent from universities with industry and the public sector to help them develop the skills they need to solve real world problems using advances in data science, and in particular big data analysis. The heady mix created by these outstanding physical assets, top academics, outstanding skills and industry collaboration are exactly the sorts of environment that prospective inward investors are keen to be located within.

Whilst I was down at TIGA in London my colleagues along with those from DIT Northern Powerhouse were hosting a delegation of potential inward investors at the VRTGO conference in Gateshead, where many of the world’s top VR/AR companies gather each year.

Part of this year’s event was the opening of a new Immersive Lab at Gateshead’s Northern Design Centre. The immersive lab is soon to be part of PROTO, a new state of the art emerging technology centre based in Gateshead. The North East lab is one of only four across the UK, the others being in London, Brighton and Northern Ireland, and will help us tap into and develop the immersive tech sector which is already valued at £5.4 billion globally.

So as I approach Newcastle, I know that one of the more personal impacts of us being at the centre of this digital tech revolution is that when I get home, rather than a warm embrace in the hallway, my two youngest boys will shout ‘we’ll be down in a minute dad’ as they continue blasting their mates on-line in some post-apocalyptic mayhem - thanks again Rebellion!

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