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Where we grow — understanding the sectors driving the North’s success

4 min read

True North

Where we grow understanding the sectors driving the Norths success

As part of our True North report, Kelly Weston, COO of The Data City, analyses innovation in Northern cities.

While the UK’s growth story has been somewhat tempered in recent years, we are seeing notable innovation in Northern cities — as found in research from The Data City, where we track the UK’s fastest growing sectors, clusters and companies.

Liverpool leads the pack with an impressive growth rate of approximately 20%. This surge is indicative of a broader trend in the North’s resurgence as a hub of economic activity and innovation.

Sheffield is close behind, boasting a growth rate of 12.4%, followed by Bradford at 10.9% and Manchester at 8.5%. The only non-Northern city in the top five is Portsmouth at 10.2%. Supportive infrastructures and strategic investments have been instrumental in propelling the growth of these cities, with three key drivers standing out. 


1. The Covid effect

The disruptions caused by the pandemic underscored the importance of domestic supply chains. Liverpool’s logistics growth (particularly in US trade) — buoyed by its newly established freeport — aligns with the imperative to bolster the nation’s supply chain resilience. Investments like the £400m Liverpool2 project and expanded warehousing, coupled with improved multi-modal infrastructure and geographical location, positions Liverpool for further logistics expansion.

Aside from logistics, Liverpool has become a hotbed of talent in software development, due to a rise in security engineering and game development companies. There has been significant capital investment and expertise in the area via the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Hartree Centre.

Business support services is another growth area in the Liverpool City Region, growing by 12.7% per year and employing more than 5,000 people.


2. The circular economy

In the face of climate change, cities like Sheffield and Bradford have focused on energy storage and sustainable ‘green growth’ practices. Bradford District Council has been particularly keen to orient its economy towards green growth.

This is great news, given the energy generation companies that exist in neighbouring councils, such as Green Energy 4 All in Halifax, which supports businesses in the whole of West Yorkshire and beyond to reach their net zero targets.

In Sheffield, the presence of institutions like the Translational Energy Centre and Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre has led to breakthroughs in energy storage technologies, such as synthetic air fuels.

Sheffield’s innovation extends to supporting net-zero initiatives, as demonstrated by its SAF Innovation Centre’s contribution to the first net zero transatlantic flight.

The potential of Sheffield’s further growth and continued leadership in sustainable innovation is significant, with South Yorkshire having been announced as the first of the UK’s new investment zones.

Specific investment is being provided for a new research partnership between the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and Boeing.


3. Technological innovation

The rapid pace of technological evolution demands leadership in AI and related fields. Manchester, with its storied history in computing and AI, is a hive of activity. 

Supportive initiatives like the Greater Manchester AI Foundry and successful AI-driven companies like PeakAI and InTechnica have solidified Manchester’s role as a leader in AI advancement. Additionally, the life sciences have flourished, driven by institutions like the National Institute for Health and Care Research and UK Biobank. 

Meanwhile, Bradford University has announced a focus on Space and AI technologies, with the announcement of the Bradford-Renduchintala Centre for Space AI last year. The university is now set to launch its own satellite later in 2023. And with advanced manufacturing expertise in the region, there is real potential for the space economy in Bradford. 


What can we understand from this data?

As growth continues, addressing transport links between Northern cities and towns remains pivotal. Advocacy for devolution is growing, aslocal authorities possess a nuanced understanding of the unique growth trajectories of different sectors. Local government empowerment, coupled with data-driven insights, is key to maintaining momentum and focusing resources effectively.

What we can take from this data is that the fastest growing cities in the UK — particularly those in the North — are characterised by a convergence of factors such as advanced manufacturing, climate-conscious initiatives and technological innovation. These cities serve as testaments to the power of strategic investments and supportive ecosystems in propelling growth and innovation. 

Our ability to harness technology and data insights is essential to understanding, targeting and nurturing innovation clusters. The Data City platform provides visual representations of these clusters, aiding in identifying investment needs and required training programmes. The platform’s capabilities have illuminated the success stories outlined in this report, emphasising the vital role of focused investments and support. 

Download the True North report and join the network.

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