With Theresa May announcing her green paper on the UK’s industrial strategy today, Teesside University has published its own blueprint for boosting business and employment in the Tees Valley – challenging the government to ‘think digital’ and responding to Lord Heseltine’s report on the challenges facing the region’s economy.
The University has unveiled its ‘DigitalCity – Catalyst for Growth’ vision which sets out a five-point plan for the region to become recognised for ‘the superior digital capability of its businesses’. The new report from DigitalCity – a partnership between the University and the Tees Valley Combined Authority which works with both digital and non-digital business to stimulate digital innovation and investment – builds on the recommendations in Lord Heseltine’s Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited report to secure a “strong and sustainable economic future for the Tees Valley”. It demonstrates the University’s clear plan of action for supporting economic growth and inward investment.
Specifically, the University – through its DigitalCity partnership – will focus on five key areas as a catalyst for growth within the Tees Valley:
1. Creating a new generation of digital businesses – nurturing digital start-ups and providing hubs where they can grow.
2. Supporting the growth of businesses through digital – unlocking the growth potential of traditional businesses through digital innovation.
3. Transforming sectors with digital knowledge – providing businesses with research and expertise to improve their competitiveness.
4. Preparing businesses for Industry 4.0 – helping businesses get ready for the influence of automation and digital supply chains.
5. Growing digital skills and talent – giving people and businesses the digital know-how they need for the future.
In launching the strategy, the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Engagement Professor Jane Turner said that ‘DigitalCity – Catalyst for Growth’ provided ‘an opportunity for the Tees Valley to put real power behind its ambitious plans for the economy’. This would include directly supporting Tees Valley targets to increase start-ups by 25% and creating 25,000 jobs by 2025, and helping to close the regional and national digital skills gap which costs the UK £63 billion a year in lost GDP.
‘Digital defines the way we do business today,’ Professor Turner explained. ‘For traditional industries, the extent to which they adapt to digital change is a major factor in deciding whether they succeed, stall or fail in the future. At the same time, digital is the driving force powering the growth of new businesses and new sectors.’
‘DigitalCity – Catalyst for Growth’ highlights the impact of the University’s digital work in the Tees Valley and more widely and Professor Turner wants to inspire more individuals and businesses to see DigitalCity as their partner for a digital future: ‘If we ensure the people who work in the Tees Valley have the digital skills we need for the future, we can grow employment through creating new digital businesses and high-value jobs. If we support businesses in building their digital capability, we can help them evolve so they can support the growth of the existing and emerging sectors we need for a strong and productive Tees Valley economy. And if we do each of those things well, we have the opportunity to secure a national and international reputation for a Tees Valley digital cluster with cutting-edge digital skills, attracting more businesses to come here and work with us in their supply chains. We are already working hard to seize that opportunity by helping businesses prepare for a digital future. DigitalCity is the way we are making that happen.’
It is clear that Teesside University understands the digital challenge facing businesses in the region and, through DigitalCity, the kind of support they need.
DigitalCity supports digital start-ups, helps SMEs who want to use digital to grow, and works with bigger companies to help put digital at the heart of their business. It is also ramping up efforts to tackle the wider digital challenges that have the potential to hold the UK back regionally and nationally, revealed Professor Turner.
‘For example, women are under-represented in digital businesses in the UK. We’re bridging that gap by encouraging more women to come on our courses and to actively consider a career in digital, so that ultimately half of digital businesses in the Tees Valley have female leaders. There’s a risk that the rise of digital undermines the high streets which play such an important role in building attractive communities where people want to come and work and DigitalCity will harness the thinking within the University to show smaller businesses how they can use digital to thrive and grow.’ This approach will ensure that both ‘new and old’ industries can benefit from digital innovation, she added.
Business leaders within the Tees Valley and wider region praised the University’s approach to redefining the region. ‘Teesside University is a driving force behind the digital transformation of the Tees Valley’s economy, playing a vital role in connecting our region to new opportunities and networks,’ said Andrew Lewis, Managing Director of the Tees Valley Combined Authority.
‘It is clear that Teesside University understands the digital challenge facing businesses in the region and, through DigitalCity, the kind of support they need,’ concurred James Ramsbotham, Chief Executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce. ‘It’s important that businesses look to the University as a partner who can help them make the changes they need and build the capability for the future.’
Sarah Glendinning, CBI North East Regional Director, added: ‘Effective collaboration between the HE sector and business has a crucial contribution to make, not only to individual firms’ competitiveness but also to UK regional and national economic growth. For Tees Valley businesses to thrive it is critical that they tap into the proven skills and expertise at Teesside University so they can prepare for a digital future.’
Professor Turner concluded: ‘We believe that it is only by working together – with government, partners and businesses – that we can really fulfil the potential we see for the Tees Valley. This must be a team effort.’