Whitehall’s new tech department must drive digital innovation across the UK

Following today’s (7/2/23) announcement of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s reorganisation of Whitehall departments, the UK Tech Cluster Group welcomes the creation of the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology. 

Led by Michelle Donelan, Government plans for the new technology department to ‘drive the innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy.’ 

The UK Tech Cluster Group works to support tech businesses and our regional digital ecosystems to thrive. Directly supporting over 6,000 businesses per year with a monthly digital reach of 1.5million impressions, we operate at the local grassroots and in partnerships nationally to deliver for more start-up and scale up businesses; drive the tech skills agenda; enable digital adoption and harness innovation through technology. 

 We look forward to connecting with the Department over the coming weeks, building on our strong relationship with BEIS and DCMS in pursuit of tech excellence and a digital economy in which the whole of the UK can share.  

Katie Gallagher, Chair of the UK Tech Cluster Group, said: 

“It is welcome news that the government has reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the tech sector at this critical juncture. Research in 2021 found that the digital sector employs around 1.66 million people: accounting for 4.9% of all jobs. It also contributed £148 billion to the economy – amounting to 7.6% of the UK total.’’

‘’As Managing Director of Manchester Digital, and in working with industry and Government on the Digital Skills Council, I see the critical importance of keeping momentum and ensuring businesses can start, grow, and innovate through technology, while more people are supported to build digital careers’’. 

Ministers across government – including the Secretary of State and Chancellor in their recent Bloomberg speeches – have been clear as to the importance of digital tech to growing the economy.  We look forward to continuing to work with them to help deliver on this agenda by building on success and unlocking potential in all parts of the UK’’

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New Government digital strategy launched

By Katie Gallagher, chair of the UK Tech Cluster Group and MD of Manchester Digital

The Government announced its new Digital Strategy today, coinciding with London Tech Week, which is a little bit ironic, given all its talk of levelling up to the regions over the past year. However, it is heartening to see that there is acknowledgment of the growing importance of regional tech ecosystems with the government predicting that regional ecosystems could contribute an additional £41.4bn to GVA by 2025.

The document is an update to its predecessor from 2017 – which seems far more than five years ago, given everything that has happened in the UK since then. 

As the UK economy falters after the pandemic spending spree, the Government is placing its hope for the future in tech, digital and innovation. The report states that the UK saw £27.4 billion private capital invested in tech last year, more than any other European country. Cisco predicts that a more inclusive digital strategy could add £168 billion to the UK economy by 2030. The updated vision from DCMS is that the UK will be the best place in the world to start and grow a tech business.  

The newly released paper covers six areas that the Government will focus on to achieve their aims: 

New digital regulations – creating a digital infrastructure to protect citizens and ensure that tech and digital security and intellectual property is defended. 

Ideas and intellectual property – Government investment into research and development as well as R&D tax incentives, as well as growing AI, next-generation semi-conductors, digital twins, autonomous systems and quantum computing. 

Digital skills and talent – working with schools, universities and further education to develop tech and digital skills, as well as continuing to invest in apprenticeships, T-Levels and other digital training – and opening up new visa routes. 

Financing digital growth – continuing to support innovation and growth financing, as well as continuing to promote the London Stock Exchange. 

Levelling up and public services – creating better access to digital technologies across the whole of the UK. 

Enhancing the UK’s place as a global tech power – promoting better global trade, which is also linked to a forthcoming International Tech Strategy. 

I have recently been appointed to the Government’s Digital Skills Council which is currently looking at how we can combine the levelling up agenda with digital skills and tech growth. If this Government is going to create an enviable global tech hub, then it must work quickly to include the whole of the UK, and not just London. 

As chair of the UK Tech Cluster Group, I work hard with colleagues from the other regions and nations to raise the  profile of regional tech ecosystems and help national and regional governments understand the best ways to support and grow them.

Across the UK, regional tech ecosystems have many of the same core issues but they are also at different stages of their development, with different specialisms and differing levels of provision, whether that is access to funding, the right skills supply or scale up support.

The only way that levelling up the tech industry will work is if it happens at a grass roots level and any intervention from the Government is flexible enough to meet the nuanced needs of the regions and nations. 

In addition to this, the regional tech eco-systems have a huge role to play in developing R&D capacity, in terms of outgoings and cost, so I would love to see these assets developed. While they have less capital outgoings on rent, salaries etc, there is more budget available to go into equipment and research. A relatively small number of highly innovative and fast-growing businesses, stemming from this localised innovation, can make a huge difference to the prosperity of smaller towns and cities.

Overall, we welcome the new Digital Strategy and its ambitions. However, it is absolutely vital for the Government to realise what already exists in the regions. Grassroots tech organisations work incredibly hard to support start-ups, create role model programmes for youngsters and developing tech apprenticeships – all without huge amounts of investment. 

Imagine what we could achieve with significant amounts of investment…

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Roundtable 7 – Reskilling to drive technology employment

In our seventh  roundtable session as part of the national Recovery Roadmap program, the group discussed how stakeholders from across government, local authorities, and enterprise partnerships help us to create awareness of the jobs available in the tech sector and to undertake positive action to reskill people to fill these roles.

We  do lots of research, but also,  part of the purpose of our pilots will be gathering further information about skills need. These projects are quite short, a year or 18 months, so we’ll have good needs information from business and better be  able to identify the plans for bigger programmes. Alongside this we have skills boards made up of industry leaders in different sectors advising us.

Jane Vivian People and Skills Programme Manager, West of England Combined Authority

Watch the roundtable discussion

In the UKTCG’s third roundtable event, a panel of experts explore how digital skills and capabilities will be essential in the new normal enabling the UK’s economic recovery.

  1. Ben Shorrock, Managing Director TechSPARK, UKTCG Steering Board 
  2. Jonathan Williamson, SaaS Platform Director, TechnologyOne 
  3.  Scott Murphy, Managing Director, HdE TALENT 
  4. Robert Walker, Strategic Project Manager Digital Skills for Employability, Sheffield City Council 
  5. Rob Dawson, Enterprise Officer, Bath & North East Somerset Council 
  6. Caitlin Davies  Senior Manager Economy Skills and Natural Resources, Welsh Government 
  7. Jane Vivian, People and Skills Programme Manager, West of England Combined Authority

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Roundtable 6 – Technology adoption to drive productivity

In our sixth roundtable session as part of the national Recovery Roadmap program, the group discussed how we best support the UK public and higher education sectors to better understand how digital technology can enable increased productivity and be equipped with the trial solutions and knowledge to show the potential return on investment.

Now, we can easily have conversations with anybody at any point across the country, which is really, really good. Although technically we could do that before, there’s been a real culture change and I hope we can take the best things going forward as we reenter the workspace next year. 

Ethan Wroe, Policy Support Officer at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Watch the roundtable discussion

In the UKTCG’s third roundtable event, a panel of experts explore how digital skills and capabilities will be essential in the new normal enabling the UK’s economic recovery.


  1. Ben Shorrock, ​Managing Director TechSPARK, UKTCG Steering Board
  2. Robert Walker​, Strategic Project Manager, Sheffield City Council
  3. Jennifer Wells​, Knowledge Exchange Manager, University of Brighton
  4. Emma Woodcock​, Chief Information Officer, Yorkshire St John University
  5. Andrew Henley​, Co-I and Wales lead ESRC The Productivity Institute, Co-I ESRC Productivity Insights Network & Professor of Entrepreneurship and Economics at Cardiff University
  6. Andy Salmon​, Vice Principal, Bath Spa University
  7. James Bedford​, Digital Cluster Development Manager, Science & Technology Council
  8. Mark Lockett​, Sales Director, TechnologyOne
  9. Michael Veasey​, Economic Development Consultant, Essex County Council
  10. Kate de Vries​, Economic Development Officer, Norfolk County Council

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Roundtable 5 – COVID Learnings: UK Public Sector

In our fifth roundtable session as part of the national Recovery Roadmap program, the group discussed what their experience of the coronavirus outbreak can tell us about the future role, priorities and shape of public services. The session focussed on four key areas: the integration of services; inequalities in access and outcome; the relationship between local and national services; and the role of civil society—the private sector, charities, volunteers and community groups—during coronavirus.

One thing I’ve noticed is it’s much harder to produce serendipity in innovation. A lot of our projects start from bumping into someone on the way to the train station or similar. We’re lucky living and working in Oxford.  Without those accidental moments it’s become harder and we have to work on it much more. 

Llewelyn Morgan, Head of Innovation, Oxfordshire County Council

Watch the roundtable discussion

In the UKTCG’s third roundtable event, a panel of experts explore how digital skills and capabilities will be essential in the new normal enabling the UK’s economic recovery.

  1. Ben Shorrock, UK Tech Cluster Group Director
  2. Ian Owen, General Manager Public Sector, TechnologyOne 
  3. Claire Main, Economic Development Officer, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council
  4. Rachel Burdis, Inward Investment Manager, Invest North East England 
  5. Sarah Talbot, Head of Innovation, Swindon Borough Council 
  6. David Henderson, Head of Transformation, Hargreaves Lansdown 
  7. Llewelyn Morgan, Head of Innovation, Oxfordshire County Council 
  8. Declan Murphy, Economic Development Projects Officer, Bristol City Council 
  9.  Ethan Wroe, Policy Support Officer at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

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Coronavirus: a guide to business support for the tech ecosystem- Updated 27/03


In the face of coronavirus, many of us are looking at ways to safeguard our future. We’ve tried to collate all the information available into one space for you. Things will be changing all the time and we’ll be updating this page regularly as the Government provides more information and support.

Support for our community

The team at TechSPARK is here to offer any support and advice that we can, you can contact us via hello@techspark.co.  TechSPARK, as part of the TCGUK (Tech Cluster Group UK) is in contact with the government and feeding in ways in which they can support us.

Below we have detailed some of the packages announced by Government and how they could impact you

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The Government  has announced it will provide support to businesses around wages:

  • All employers are eligible for the scheme.
  • It’s only wages of people who aren’t working but are furloughed and kept on the payroll. We don’t know how you’ll show people are furloughed
  • The grant will cover 80% of their salary and offer retained workers up to £2,500 a month
  • It can be backdated to 1 March.
  • Employers can top-up salaries if they wish
  • There is no limit on funding and it’s open for at least three months.
  • IT will be paid to businesses by the end of April

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

This scheme will offer access to lending and overdrafts for businesses affected by the current crisis. The government will provide the banks with a guarantee for 80% of funds loans so lenders have the confidence to still provide finance.

  • Rates are 0% for the first 12 months
  • This is still a commercial loan so needs repaying, will be assessed on your business and may require security for the remaining 20%
  • The maximum amount to borrow is £5m
  • Loans will be available from Monday 23rd March
  • More info via the British Business Bank here 

Business rates – £10,000 grants.

The Government has announced that many companies will not pay Business Rates in 2020-21. Most relevant to our sector is the £10,000 grants which will be given to up to 700,000 businesses in the UK.

  • Grants of £10,000 will be awarded to businesses who are eligible for Small Business Rates Relief.
  • This scheme is being run by local authorities and awards should happen without you having to apply if you have SBRR eligibility. Funding will come to councils in early April to do this.
  • If you are in managed space you likely haven’t done this so you won’t be eligible.
  • It’s possible your managed space provider has so worth checking in.
  • More info here

Statutory Sick Pay

All SMEs will be able to reclaim statutory sick pay for employees affected by Corona however no system is yet in place for this so it may take weeks to months for money to come back.

  • It’s for SMEs only (fewer than 250 employees)
  • It’s for 2 weeks SSP per employee who are off because of Corona
  • No sick note is needed just employer records

Self employed /  Contractors / Freelancers

If you are self-employed Government offers support similar for employees

  • You will receive a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly profit up to £2,500. You can still work through this time, unlike furloughed employees.
  • it will initially be for 3 months but payment won’t be until June
  • You need at least self-assessment return for 2019 & payment will be calculated using average monthly profits over the last three financial years
  • The cut off is for self-employed profits of £50,000 p.a.
  • If you are eligible HMRC will be in touch.

Some people won’t be eligible for the above. If so Government  has said it will make it easier for you to claim Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit at the rate of Statutory Sick Pay

  • During the crisis, the Universal Credit minimum income floor will be relaxed if you are sick with Corona or self-isolating
  • People can claim Universal Credit and access upfront payments without going to the jobcentre if they are self-isolating
  • Employment & Support Allowance can be paid you’re sick with Corona or self-isolating from day 1 (instead of the usual day 8)
  • Universal Credit has been increased by £1,000 a year for the next 12 months.
  • All self-assessment payments for businesses will be deferred to 2021.
  • Info on Employment and Support Allowance is here and Universal Credit here

Tax & VAT

Both business and self-employed can receive support from the HMRC time to pay scheme which means you can defer payments

  • The Chancellor announced that he is deferring the next quarter of VAT payments. You now have until the end of the year to pay them
  • HMRC will discuss instalments, suspensions of debt collection or cancelling interest
  • They have a Corona hotline 0800 0159 559.

Other Information

How you can help

To combat the coronavirus outbreak, the Government is looking to collaborate with startups who might be able to lend support and expertise in the following:

  • If you can help with vaccines: Nervtag@phe.gov.uk
  • If you are able to support in the manufacture of ventilators: ventilator.support@beis.gov.uk
  • For any broader support or ideas to help with the response on innovation or tech: DNHSX@nhsx.nhs.uk
  • There’s also the European Commission’s funding scheme for startups that could help in treating, testing, monitoring or other aspects of the Coronavirus outbreak. The deadline for which is today Friday 20 March at 5 pm.

Bristol cases

As of 16.30 on 26/03/20, there have been 41 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Bristol. Please note, the Government has decided not to test people with mild symptoms. Local authority numbers of confirmed cases are reported on this dashboard and updated each afternoon.


Lots of people want to volunteer to help. You can do that in Bristol via the Can Do Website and in Bath via B&NES 3SG Community Connectors

The Quartet Foundation is also directing money to the communities in more need locally, you can donate here

Other Helpful links

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