/ News / Delivering Lancashire’s digital business growth

Kam Kothia OBE DL, Lancashire Enterprise Partnership Board Director and Chair of the Digital Sector Group.

The value of the UK’s technology ecosystem has exploded in recent years, surpassing a valuation of $1tn. This is particularly impressive when you consider that we are only the third country in the world to achieve this status after the United States and China.

As digital and data become ever more central to business operations, it’s no surprise that digital and technology have been identified as major drivers of growth for the future prosperity of the UK.

Government estimates suggesting the digital economy could grow the UK tech sector’s annual GVA by an additional £41.5 billion by 2025 and create a further 678,000 jobs1.

In its UK Digital Strategy, the Government set out the aim for the UK ‘to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business’. It has also promised to focus beyond the capital to ensure that no region is left behind, with particular effort on ‘levelling up’ the North through the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund.

We believe that Lancashire has a significant role to play here. In our recently released, Lancashire Digital Strategy the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership outlined our own exciting ambitions for Lancashire to be the fastest growing digital economy by 2035, increasing digital employment to over 50,000 and the value of the digital sector to over £5 billion per annum – growing from the current 3% contribution to the Lancashire economy to over 10% of economic output.

This ambition isn’t one plucked out of thin air. It’s rooted in a long history of innovation reaching back to the first industrial revolution, combined with our technological capabilities, and existing and emerging sector strengths.

It’s also made stronger by the opportunities on offer from the significant investment into the region from the National Cyber Force, which will put Lancashire at the heart of the UK’s cyber security and boost the economy through its wider supply chain.

Our aspiration for Lancashire

The Lancashire Digital Strategy places the digital sector at the forefront of the county’s growth ambitions and outlines the intention to make Lancashire the location of choice for businesses and investors looking to develop and apply innovative digital solutions to significant global challenges. It also outlines sectors where Lancashire can really differentiate itself – Advanced Mobility, supply and distribution of Clean Energy and Net Zero Technologies, Cyber Security and Health.

To turn this aspiration into a reality that brings benefits for the whole of the county, the Strategy – available on the LEP website – sets out a series of 14 interlinking short, medium, and long-term interventions focused on increasing digital skills, business support, investment and building a digital infrastructure.

How will the Strategy support business growth and investment?

Here are some of the interventions we have identified with the Strategy.

Investment: The growth of digital industries globally and nationally, and demand for applied data technologies within growth sectors across the region’s economy, mean that prospects for business growth are healthy.

However, despite some recent successes, Lancashire’s digital businesses are still falling behind competitors in London – and other cities, such as Manchester and Leeds – in the amount of equity investment they are able to attract.

Scottish Enterprise’s Logan report (2021) highlights that building a sustainable investment pipeline requires a consistent flow of new entrants and new money, from pre-start, start-up and scale-up businesses to those achieving an ‘exit’ at the end of the funnel. This is critical for Lancashire because it is those smaller and scale-up organisations which will create the volume of jobs we need to fulfil our digital ambitions and meet demand across sectors.

We have identified the need to put in place incentives and support via regional angel networks for patient money and smart capital. This would close the gap and opportunity in investment for Lancashire businesses, in addition to attracting more major organisations to invest in locating all or part of their operations to the county.

Innovation: We also want to identify and scale more of the micro and small digital and eCommerce businesses – which are a ‘hidden strength’ of the sector – as an entry level opportunity for new entrepreneurs; and to support existing providers to increase levels of innovation to diversify their services.

Clustering: In addition, if Lancashire is to set itself apart as the go-to region for business growth then we need to look beyond the development of our existing digital businesses and apply focus to harnessing the cross-cutting power of digital and data to support all sectors – particularly those who may only be at the beginning of their digital transformation journeys.

This will be addressed by creating a collaborative clustering approach where business leaders across all sectors work together, and with our universities, to develop a knowledge exchange and highlight productivity gains from digital. And by supporting businesses in priority and frontier sectors to adopt and apply data, digital tools and services to deliver quick wins and realise the economic and social potential of longer-term growth opportunities.

We need you

The Lancashire Digital Strategy is only the start. To make our exciting ambitions a reality we need a decisive implementation plan. But without understanding fully the challenges, requirements and goals of all our businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs, we cannot deliver this strategy to its fullest and unlock Lancashire’s latent potential.

As the region’s voice of business, the LEP collaborates with a wide array of stakeholders from the region’s businesses, educational institutions and public sector bodies. And we are asking for your

support to come forward and contribute to share your thoughts and ideas on a detailed delivery plan.

The suggested interventions laid out in the Strategy will be developed further through the establishment of four Task and Finish Groups, made up of representatives from small and large businesses, academia and other organisation across the region, which will consult widely and draw upon the collective knowledge of all stakeholders to develop a detailed Delivery Plan.

These Task and Finish Groups will focus on:

· Developing the digital ecosystem

· Business growth and investment

· Transforming digital skills

· Identity, marketing and promotion

Anybody who is interested in growing their business, in scaling up or even starting up should come forward and be part of the conversation.

We need to be bold and ambitious, but together we can take that leap of faith and take Lancashire from the fringes to the heart of the UK’s technological ecosystem.

If you would like to join one of the Task and Finish Groups, please contact Martine Winder at the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership on martine.winder@lancashirelep.co.uk

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