I’ve been gradually building a presence there: it’s a platform that works particularly well for long-form pieces like this. Go take a look!
I’ve written a couple of posts for the What Works Centre on how to use new data sources, and data science techniques, in designing and evaluating local growth programmes.
In parts of the interweb ‘Big Data’ is now such a cliché that dedicated Twitter bots will dice up offending content – see above. But in local economic development, and urban policy more broadly, researchers and policymakers are only beginning to exploit these resources.
The Tech Map London is out, and so is the research that underpins it. It’s an extremely impressive piece of work, and anyone remotely interested in urban tech ecosystems should take a look. Kudos to the GLA for commissioning it, and to Trampoline Systems and SQW who put the thing together. Other city-regions should try and do something similar.
Here’s some notes I made. It gets a bit geeky in places.
1/ Patterns – one widely-reported headline is that London has a whole bunch of technology hotspots, not just one. That makes sense, and chimes with other recent analysis. And as some colleagues and I explore in a forthcoming paper, even pre-2010 Silicon Roundabout was linked into a much larger system.
Another is that the tech sector is ‘shunning’ the Old St area. That’s harder to see, as there’s no time dimension in the data, but it’s clear that as that neighbourhood’s technology scene grows, and the area gets pricier, things will tend to spread out. This is what I found recently in some work for Centre for London.
2/ Definitions – The definition of ‘tech’ is important, and this NESTA piece makes clear, there’s a bunch of competing definitions in play. The project team base their work on the recent ONS science and technology categories, though they tell me they tweaked these a bit. This feels sensible, and has the advantage of allowing them to consider (say) medicine and life sciences alongside ICT.
3/ Data – the report uses high quality IDBR data for some of the analysis, but relies on Companies House data for the actual mapping, which identifies tech firms using self-reported industry codes. This isn’t great, as the authors acknowledge: a non-trivial share of firms don’t report anything, others put down non-informative codes (say, ‘other business services’), and SIC codes often don’t tell us much about products/services. Companies House data on employment and revenues is also quite gappy, and comes off of a selected subsample. Use those numbers with caution.
Anna Rosso and I have used a big data-driven approach [unlocked version] to try and get around some of these issues, though this isn’t perfect either. We’re now testing a combination of administrative and modelled info which should plug a lot more of the holes.
4/ Location – I’m still scratching my head a bit on this. Companies House data gives the address of a registered office, not the trading address. The two could be quite different, and in extremis, not even in the same city. The project team did a survey to explore these issues, finding that for most SMEs, the two addresses are the same, so developed the map on that basis. It’s obviously critical that the survey is robust for us to believe the map.
I couldn’t find that much detail in the report, but assuming the survey is sound, this is a pretty helpful finding for me and others working with company data. Meanwhile, we can get a rough sense of the correspondence by comparing the map at the top of the page with this one.
The first uses IDBR employment data from actual plant locations, the second uses Companies House registered addresses. For some reason, the first map covers the whole of science and tech, while the second only looks at digital technologies (around 18% of all science and tech jobs in 2013) and is in logs, not raw counts. The two line up *fairly* well, but really we need to see a like-for-like comparison using plants/enterprises, not jobs. Note: I’d be very happy to update this material if the team can furnish me with more detail.
Having covered soft power, the latest issue looks at technology. It launches on 1 July, but you can read my article early here: I take a look at London’s digital industries and their contribution to the city’s economic future, crunch some new numbers and try not to make too many jokes about artisanal products.
Hope you enjoy reading it!
Writing it has been good preparation for the LSE lecture I’m chairing on 7 July, where Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK will be setting out his thoughts on London’s digital future, and the prospects for the tech sector across the country. If you can make it, please come say hello.
I’ve been busy working on a bunch of projects recently, but will be escaping the office to do a couple of talks over the summer. Each very different …
I’ve just completed a long piece on London’s digital evolutions for the Centre for London think tank’s new London Essays imprint, so I’m looking forward to this one. Emma and I met Gerard recently and were impressed by his openness. It should be a great session. Details are here.
On 23 July I’m in New Zealand at the ‘Pathways, Circuits and Crossroads’ conference on the economics of immigration and diversity, which is organised by the University of Waikato, Massey University and Motu. I’m very grateful to Jacques Poot and Dave Maré for inviting me over. They’re just beginning a major programme of work on immigration and diversity in NZ, and I’m hoping we can kick off some interesting collaborations when I’m in town. More details of that event when I have them.
If you’re around for either of these, come and say hello!
Anna Rosso and I have just published the next phase of our big data project. Kindly funded by NESTA, this builds on the work we did with Google last year. As before we’re working with Growth Intelligence, who’ve developed the very nice multi-layer dataset we use. We’ll be publishing a further paper sometime in the New Year.
The abstract is below. Or take a look at this writeup in the FT.
Governments around the world want to develop their ICT and digital industries. Policymakers thus need a clear sense of the size and characteristics of digital businesses, but this is hard to do with conventional datasets and industry codes. This paper uses innovative ‘big data’ resources to perform an alternative analysis at company level, focusing on ICT-producing firms in the UK (which the UK government refers to as the ‘information economy’). Exploiting a combination of public, observed and modelled variables, we develop a novel ‘sector-product’ approach and use text mining to provide further detail on the activities of key sector-product cells. On our preferred estimates, we find that counts of information economy firms are 42% larger than SIC-based estimates, with at least 70,000 more companies. We also find ICT employment shares over double the conventional estimates, although this result is more speculative. Our findings are robust to various scope, selection and sample construction challenges. We use our experiences to reflect on the broader pros and cons of frontier data use.
Rory Cellan-Jones has a nice article on the BBC website on the prospects for the Government’s ‘Tech North’ initiative, building extensively from my work with Emma Vandore on Tech City in London. Here’s some further thoughts.
Tech North was launched by Nick Clegg last week: it’s one of the products of the DPM’s recent Northern Futures initiative. The idea is to promote tech clusters in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle: Clegg has put £2m/year on the table to support local firms, and to attract FDI to the area.
Politically this is a no brainer. It meshes with the government’s ‘rebalancing’ rhetoric. And it fits the new mission of TechCity UK, which has expanded its remit from just East London to cover the whole country. TCUK is publishing work next month looking at digital clusters, which will put some new numbers behind the policy.
So will it work? Rory is fairly sceptical in his piece. I’m still unclear what the programme will actually do: so here are five issues policymakers should be thinking about.
1/ Real geographies – Tech North connects five big cities with over 150 miles between them. In the real world, urban tech is in very tight microclusters: neighbourhood scale scenes which allow for lots of face to face contact. In Liverpool, for example, a lot of the action is in Ropewalks or the Baltic Triangle.
In London, Ministers originally hoped to ‘connect’ the Shoreditch cluster to the Olympic Park a few miles away. That hasn’t proved possible, not least because Old Street firms didn’t want to move there and saw no connection between the two.
So the chances of creating a single super hub across the Pennines are slim at best. There are worrying echoes of the Thames Gateway here: a planning concept, not a real place. On the other hand, as we found in London, the area branding might prove a helpful way to raise the profile of these local scenes.
2/ Who’s in and who’s out? The DPM seems to have focused his attention on the five Northern core cities. Fair enough, in that these are the economic powerhouses of their wider regions. But the real geography of tech activity is a little different. But cities like York and Sunderland also have quite a lot of tech firms. So why aren’t they included?
3/ FDI versus growing our own – firms cluster because co-location makes sense: they can tap into new ideas and pools of skilled workers and can share useful inputs (like fast broadband or VC investors). On the other hand, clusters have tensions built in. As more firms enter, pressures on space build up, so rents rise. And competition rises, for staff and for market share.
Given all this, it’s risky to base cluster development policies on foreign investment. If FDI simply brings in big multinationals, these might displace smaller, younger UK businesses. I doubt that’s what Government or cities want. Agencies like UKTI typically try and maximise the count and size of foreign investments. A different approach is needed here, which is to focus on the type of foreign inputs.
4/ Infrastructure – FDI programmes should try and enrich the rest of the ecosystem, especially specialist services tech firms need: finance, lawyers, accountants and workspaces. This stuff is only just starting to appear in London at scale, and is likely to be a priority for other UK cities. Certainly, the UK’s VC scene is pretty weak outside the capital.
Equally, fast internet (and fast connection to it) is a basic need. For me, this is now a public utility, so it’s disappointing that the Superconnected Cities scheme has retreated from rolling out faster systems to everyone, to simply providing vouchers to SMEs. The CORE programme in York, Peterborough and Derby is an interesting exception (thanks to Tom Forth for the link).
5/ Policy architecture (and whether it really matters) – cluster policy advocates like Michael Porter assume that cluster development has to be local, since clusters are local phenomena. But this doesn’t follow.
First, Tech North has little cash on the table: its five-city budget is about the same as the original budget for Shoreditch. Second, a lot of the relevant policy levers are held at national level: tax breaks for investors, crowdfunding regulation, immigration and skills. That still leaves some local levers: branding, networking, planning and any local investment pots. But it’s limited stuff.
Arguably some of these national levers should be devolved: that’s started to happen through City Deals and Local Growth Deals. But we’re at the very start of this process, and though the post-Scotland moment may yet shake things up further, what Ministers are handing over in powers they’re currently taking away in cuts.
But perhaps that’s too pessimistic. As Emma and I found in the East London research, the Old St scene grew quietly for years without policymakers really noticing. That could well be the likely trajectory for the many clusters under the Tech North umbrella.
Here’s the abstract:
This paper investigates how physical, organisational, institutional, cognitive, social, and ethnic proximities between inventors shape their collaboration decisions. Using a new panel of UK inventors and a novel identification strategy, this paper systematically explores the net effects of all these ‘proximities’ on co-patenting. The regression analysis allows us to identify the full effects of each proximity, both on choice of collaborator and on the underlying decision to collaborate. The results show that physical proximity is an important influence on collaboration, but is mediated by organisational and ethnic factors. Over time, physical proximity increases in salience. For multiple inventors, geographic proximity is, however, much less important than organisational, social, and ethnic links. For inventors as a whole, proximities are fundamentally complementary, while for multiple inventors they are substitutes.
In other words, we find that physical proximity is critical to break the ice in a research collaboration; once the relationship has been established, however, other forms of proximity become more important. Crucially, for multiple inventors we find that co-location basically disappears as a driver of collaboration.
Obvious, you might think. But I’d argue that the multiple inventor group finding is pretty counter-intuitive. Our results also imply that the gains from incubators and research labs are strong for young researchers, but may fall off quite quickly. And our numbers chime with the ‘nursery cities’ hypothesis – basically, big cities are better for small young firms than older, larger ones.
UPDATE: an improved version of the paper is forthcoming in Research Policy. Read it here.
I have a new article out in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, joint with Henry Overman. It’s part of a special issue on ‘Government and Business’, with other contributions by Jonathan Haskel, Stian Westlake, Dieter Helm, Francesca Froy and Phil McCann.
You can see the whole lot here, and (for the moment) PDFs are free.
My piece with Henry is a constructive-critical take on clusters and the urban level of innovation policy. Here’s the abstract:
This paper considers the appropriate spatial scale for industrial policy. Should policy focus on particular places, targeting clusters of firms that are spatially concentrated? Or should it, instead, be ‘space neutral’, refusing to discriminate between different areas unless absolutely necessary? We provide an overview of the literature and identify two waves of literature that argue strongly in favour of a cluster approach. We argue that this approach rests on shaky theoretical and empirical foundations. In contrast, we suggest that more attention should be paid to the appropriate spatial scale for horizontal interventions. What can policy do to make cities work better, in ways that help firms to grow? That is, what is the appropriate role for ‘agglomeration’ rather than ‘cluster’ policy? Finally, we consider the possibility that some horizontal industrial policy objectives may be better served by specifically targeting particular places or from decentralized design or delivery.
Read the whole thing here.
The Centre will conduct systematic reviews of UK and international research, ranking the most effective interventions, and will work closely with local government, local enterprise partnerships and other ‘users’ to help develop stronger economic policymaking across the UK. As NICE and the EEF already do, it may eventually commission research too.
The Centre has just begun work – we had a great workshop today with a number of our local partners – and we’ll formally launch later in the Autumn. We’ll be part of a network of six working on health, education, ageing, crime reduction and early intervention as well as local economies.
Henry Overman is stepping down from SERC to lead the Centre. I’m becoming one of the Deputy Directors, and will be working at LSE alongside my research-focused role at NIESR. I’ll be leading on the academic workstream, co-ordinating the systematic reviews and demonstrator projects, as well as advising Henry on the Centre’s direction.
We’ll be working with a strong team of academics across the country – in Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Bristol, as well as London. We’ll also team up with New Economy Manchester on capacity-building and demonstrator projects. And we’ll be using the UK-wide networks developed by Centre for Cities and Arup.
Developing a new organisation from scratch is exciting, challenging and a huge amount of work, as I can attest from my early days at the Centre for Cities. Unlike most start-ups, we are very lucky to have secure initial funding. And we have an emerging body of good practice to draw on. But we still have a great deal to do in the months ahead. I look forward to working with many of you as we build out.