North Among Fastest Growing IT Clusters

The north’s burgeoning digital sector has almost doubled in size in the past five years, making it one of the fastest growing IT clusters in the UK.

According to a government study, the number of digital technology firms in the north grew by 73 per cent from 2010 to 2013 and has shown no signs of abating since.

Tech Nation is a data project that seeks to demonstrate the growth of digital clusters across the UK, developed and curated by Tech City UK in partnership with DueDil.

It is the first time the UK’s digital businesses, areas of specialism and employment figures have been comprehensively analysed.

The report put the number of people employed in the north’s digital jobs at 32,000.

It made the north home to the sixth largest digital cluster in the UK and among its fastest growing.

In 2013 and 2014, almost one in five (17 per cent) of all new companies incorporated in the north were digital compared to a 15 per cent average across the UK.

Three-quarters of all digital jobs – there are 1.46m across the UK – are outside London, the report found.

It pointed to the support of the north’s universities and the Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP) in making the region “a strong cluster in terms of technical infrastructure and property”.

However, it said Northern Ireland’s location “can be limiting to company growth in terms of transport infrastructure and attracting high-quality workers”.

The figures tally with the latest Knowledge Economy Index which placed the north at the top of the UK league ahead of London and the south east of England.

It found the north’s knowledge economy grew by more than a third in the past five years, at a time when economic conditions were at their most challenging for a generation.

Director at NISP Connect Steve Orr said the Tech Nation report, “shows that digital businesses are driving the economic growth of Belfast”.

“Our specialisms in AI and mobile payments are developing a reputation for digital excellence that is attracting talent and finance to the area.

The combined support of established digital companies, local academic institutions and local government will en-sure growth continues in our cluster for years to come.”

Stephen McKeown, CEO at Belfast-based digital firm Analytics Engines added: “Working within the close community of digital companies in Belfast has been a huge benefit to my company. Being able to share expertise, ideas and contacts can be the difference between success and failure when growing a digital business. Belfast is rightly being recognised for the opportunities it offers local digital entrepreneurs.”

Gerard Grech, chief executive of Tech City UK said the findings “will help inform policy-makers, investors and the wider business community about the sheer breadth and depth of the UK’s digital prowess”.

“This is the first time that the UK’s digital clusters have been so thoroughly analysed, revealing their strengths and importance to the digital economy. It shines a powerful spotlight on how far we’ve come in the digital tech sector, and where we are heading,” he added.