Outgoing digital minister Ed Vaizey believes the cities of the North need to work together to maximise the tech offering of the Northern Powerhouse.

Conservative MP Vaizey has returned to the backbenches after he was replaced by Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock as part of new Prime Minister Theresa May’s reshuffle.

He announced his departure from the helm of the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport on Twitter on Friday after around six years in the role.

 

Speaking to BusinessCloud before the post-Brexit vote reshuffle, he said: “The fundamental point of the Northern Powerhouse is that it is about cities and towns working together.”

Vaizey said that cities and towns should play to their strengths and complement one another instead of viewing themselves as in competition.

Leeds, for example, has expertise in health tech while the Newcastle – home to FTSE100 firm Sage – boasts many software development companies.

“It’s about making the offer clearer so that instead of Sunderland or Newcastle or Leeds saying ‘this is what you can find in our particular city’, those cities together should be able to provide this extraordinary ecosystem,” he continued.

“It’s really important for Government to connect these clusters.

“People forget that Government has frontline services such as HMRC, DWP and health (the NHS), which have a big part to play.”

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Vaizey, who had responsibility for rolling out broadband services around the country, was speaking at the recent Dynamo tech conference in Newcastle.

He told BusinessCloud that the country faces a huge task to make up the oft-cited skills gap as all businesses now require some level of tech.

“The real challenge, which is faced all over the country, is the skills shortage,” he said. “How do we give people skills they need to work in businesses?

“If you sign up to a university course which says ‘computer science’, you come out of that and you still don’t have the skills that those businesses want – so there needs to be a much closer relationship [between education and business].

“Health is being transformed, education is being transformed, supermarkets are digital businesses.

"Having those skills is soon going to become like being able to read and write because almost every business will demand some familiarity with digital technology.”