The Leeds tech surge and its impact on the North

Pubished 18th November 2019

The city of Leeds is booming. Fresh and innovative organisations such as Sky Betting, Rockstar and NHS Digital are just some of the big players to make the northern city their new home. Whilst beneficial to this West Yorkshire metropolis, how does the tech surge affect the multitude of surrounding areas who are at risk of being left in the rubble?

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The stampede of tech companies relocating to Leeds is a match made in heaven for job seekers searching their next role in the tech sector. In what has resulted in a chain reaction, an increase in tech talent has bolstered the number of high profile employers.

However, outside of the city, the picture is very different. As the majority of digitally-enabled employers move to Leeds, areas such as York, Harrogate and Wakefield are becoming increasingly neglected. Red Kite Games is just one of the many businesses that have recently moved.

Simon Iwaniszak, Studio Director for the firm commented: “Huddersfield has been great, the innovation centre has been fantastic and helped support us and grow to the size that we are now, but we do have to move. With my eye being purely on Leeds, it’s a city that has been changing and growing and that has accelerated over the last couple of years, which is exciting.”

The latest Centre for Towns report by EY discovered an extensive imbalance of foreign direct investment (FDI) that is being sunk into the major Yorkshire and Humber cities, leaving little spill over into their neighbouring towns. Of 49 FDI activities recorded around the Yorkshire and Humber region, it was found that over 50% of these were poured into Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.

This disparity problem is only widening. In 1997, less than 30% of FDI was attributed to larger cities, however, FDI projects into smaller towns have either stagnated or declined with cities such as Leeds seizing the more lucrative of opportunities. But whilst these opportunities find themselves with the major players in Yorkshire, Wakefield finds itself in a unique position.

A report by Cushman & Wakefield found strong transport infrastructure linking Bradford and Leeds gave the cathedral city several advantages for suppliers. Despite this, Wakefield has struggled to contend for office occupiers, with many business owners opting to move their headquarters.

Dealtrak is just one of the businesses that have made the 12-mile journey from Wakefield to Leeds, with Matthew Briggs, CEO of the business commenting on his rationale for the move: “When we moved, the market for skills was very hard. People weren’t willing to commute, even to Wakefield which is a city in its own right with a good commuter network. We had to move because we knew that the tech and digital community had gained a foothold and that was only going to grow and become more powerful.”

He added: “what we underestimated was the impact Sky Betting & Gaming would have. Even in Wakefield, we were feeling the heat from Sky betting & Gaming paying more than we could afford and sucking up all the talent.”

To conclude, Matthew summarises the opportunities Leeds brings: “It’s a great city with a lot of appeal and there remains a high demand for people. Leeds has created a brand as a tech city in its own right, (…) it is leading the pack in the north, even ahead of Manchester as the place to work in the tech industry.”

CPP Group is just another example of a business that has relocated. Sid Mouncey, Group Product Director explains from a logistical point of view the successes they’ve had: “With being stuck out in York, having that open dialogue and creating an ecosystem was very difficult and our directors would be in London constantly building relationships. It’s a different world in Leeds. Even though it’s a short train journey to York from Leeds, the extra step put people off coming to see us.”

The Leeds tech boom is also enticing students to embark on tech and digital-based careers. One group looking to push students into digital and technology industries is She Does Digital, a Leeds-based group that looks to expand the number of women entering careers within the technical space. The initiative looks to combat the alarming figures found by a European Commission study, which states there has been a large decrease in the number of white females within the digital sector.

The Leeds digital journey is one filled with success and opportunity. While the city reaps the rewards, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it couldn’t have got there without the waves of people from the surrounding towns attributing to its growth. Nevertheless, the positives can be seen from both sides. Businesses can mop up the best talent that is attracted to Leeds, while job seekers have a greater choice of what company they want to work for. The Leeds tech scene truly is booming.