Emerging digital clusters: Bournemouth trumps London

Bournemouth has just been named as having the UK’s fastest-growing digital economy, beating London in the Tech Nation report “Mapping the UK digital industry” (link at end of post).

But just what does this mean?

The Digital Economy, to begin, is a phrase very familiar but sometimes misinterpreted. It means simply an economy that is based on digital technologies.

Our global network of economic and social activities are enabled daily by information and communication technologies, such as the Internet, mobile and sensor networks.

Be it emails, text messages or via web browsers, the digital world affects all of us in daily life.

The Independent reported in 2013 that Britain’s digital economy had been massively underestimated, and that it was actually 40 per cent larger than previously believed. At the time of the report, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) stated that there were almost 270,000 digital companies in the UK.

Max Nathan, a senior researcher at NIESR said of the report: “Policymakers have identified the digital economy as one of the UK’s key economic strengths. Using big data we show a broad array of active businesses selling digital products and services.”

Tech City, in East London, was the first area of the UK to realise the importance of all things digital. In the early 2000s, the technology cluster, created with the goal of creating a collection similar to that of Silicon Valley in the United States, consisted of technology companies such as Dopplr and TweetDeck.

Fast-forward to 2011, and all eyes were on Shoreditch, as Google announced that it was a serious contributor, and had acquired a seven-storey building, now used as an innovation hub to develop next-generation applications and services.

London may be at the forefront of business and technology, but the rest of the nation hasn’t fallen by the wayside.

The same NIESR report, funded by tech giant Google, found that revenues of digital companies were growing 25 per cent than non-digital companies and that these companies hire more people than other industry firms. It was recognised in the same report that London and the south-east were not the only digital hotspots and there were highly concentrated areas of digital companies in Aberdeen, Middlesborough and Manchester.

But heck, this tech growth shouldn’t be confined to a handful of places. Management Today stated in 2014 that ‘you don’t have to stay in London to find examples of thriving tech communities in Britain, and one of the fastest growing of these on recent years has been Bristol and Bath’.

This was true! Every beautiful Georgian street you walk down show plaques with a well-thought out digital agency logo.

Figures from McKinsey and Centre for Cities show that the south west’s technology industry employed 69,000 people in 2012, up from 62,000 three years earlier, and contributed a massive £4.8bn to the economy.

But back to Bournemouth and its seven miles of golden sands, its blue sea and the glint of the sparkling wealth in ‘millionaire’s row’ Sandbanks. Who wouldn’t want to create a startup in this friendly town? Yes, it’s still a town. With great relationships with its two educational facilities, the Arts University Bournemouth and the University of Bournemouth (both with excellent media facilities and an even greater reputation) have a magnificent pool of talent, with a lifestyle to rival locations across the nation and slowing down the ‘brain drain’ that London still occupies.

While not comparable to other digital clusters, Bournemouth should hold its head up high and take recognition for its recent accolade. With a local football team on the verge of reaching the premiership, this once-sleepy seaside town is without a doubt going to hit headlines more frequently in the near future.

Most recently, Forbes Magazine acknowledged the speedy growth of digital clusters outside the capital. David Prosser states: “It has to be said that Bournemouth is growing fast from a small base. The Tech City cluster in London is far more mature than most other regional clusters and it feels relaxed about competition from elsewhere.”

But we shouldn’t underestimate these smaller, faster-growing clusters and their contribution to the digital economy.

Forbes goes on to say: “There will many people who have no idea that Bournemouth plays host to such fast-growing technology sectors – Tech Nation begins to put these clusters on the map, which may in time see them grow further.”

The last word has to go to Matt Desmier, founder of the successful Silicon Beach Festival, bringing awareness to Bournemouth as a large contributor to the Digital Map. “The recent Tech Nation report validates everything those that work in Bournemouth’s digital community have known for a while. But more than that it’s helping change external perceptions too. In the past week alone, I’ve been invited to both 10 Downing Street and St James Palace to discuss Bournemouth’s exciting new status. The moniker of Silicon Beach is starting to seem quite apt!“

by Alix King

Delivered by Tech City UK, with key community partner DueDil, Tech Nation is an interactive big data project, mapping Britain’s digital companies, regions and employment figures, the report is entitled “Mapping the UK digital industry” and available here: https://www.duedil.com/technation/2015