Stephen Kelly backs North East’s tech scene to drive Covid-19 recovery

One of the most senior figures in the UK tech sector has backed the North East’s digital firms to help the region recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Stephen Kelly spent almost four years as CEO of Newcastle software giant Sage and earlier this year was appointed chair of Tech Nation.

Mr Kelly’s links to the North East go back to the 1980s, and he has praised the role in the region’s economic transformation since then played by tech companies such as Sage, Partnerize and Atom Bank.

He said the amount of investment the region’s tech firms attracted over the last 18 months, plus emerging strengths in sectors such as computer games, meant the region was well placed to recover from what he and many others think will be a deep recession.

And he called on the Government to help tech firms by providing help to train young people and re-skill existing workers in new technologies.

He said: “My belief is that there’s going to be a massive recession, and mass unemployment – I have flashbacks to the 1980s in that context. That was when we last saw such levels of youth unemployment.

“But within that this could be the golden time for technology companies to really think big for the North East and make it into a regional powerhouse.

“The Government, when they’re talking about levelling up the regions – the reality is that it needs company growth, it needs exports and it needs high value jobs and the skills to support that. That’s a very tangible way for the regions to be levelled up.

“The North East has become a centre of excellence, particularly in areas like video gaming. There’s a huge opportunity for the UK but it means there has to be some tough conversations about the new economy and not the old economy.

“We’ve got to be sensitive about the old economy and about job losses, but there are two things that constrain growing businesses in the technology sector: one is access to capital and the other is access to skills. The Government could act as a catalyst to re-skill thousands of people in terms of digital and technology skills.”

Mr Kelly’s comments come as a digital group with representatives from the North East has urged the Government to prioritise tech start-ups as part of its upcoming Digital Strategy.

The UK Tech Cluster Group (UKTCG) – which is chaired by David Dunn of Sunderland Software City – has made seven recommendations, including a call for the Government to help the UK spawn more product-led tech start-ups across the UK, driving a new flow of innovation into current successful scaleup programmes.

Calls have also been made for a specialist programme to help public sector bodies to better utilise digital solutions, and for any schemes to consider regional differences to ensure successful engagement and impact across the UK.

Mr Dunn said: “It is our firm belief that the seven key recommendations for policy that can make a sea change in the way tech can enable the UK to the forefront of the global economy.

“Each recommendation has a comprehensive plan behind it which we would be eager to develop further with key public policy makers for the good of our economy, our country and our local communities. The time is now to act on behalf of the grassroots.”


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