The Council and democracy Manchester Digital Strategy 2021 – 2026

Introduction: A new digital vision for Manchester

This digital strategy for Manchester is the vision for Manchester’s digital future. It sets the priorities that our whole city – our public, private, voluntary and community organisations and our residents – will be able to work on together to make Manchester one of the world’s leading smart cities and digital economies in the next five years. This means that it’s a strategy for the city, not just the Council, and that we will need to work together with people and organisations from all over Manchester to make it a reality. 

We have developed this strategy because we see an opportunity to use technology to meet the priorities of the Our Manchester Strategy, which sets out the long-term vision for Manchester’s future, and to make sure that we can achieve our ambition of being in the top-flight of world-class cities by 2025. In doing this we have tried to answer the following questions about how digital can play its part in Manchester’s future success: 

  • How can we make sure that people in Manchester have the right skills and technology to play an active role in the life of the city and its economy? 
  • How can we make sure that businesses and organisations in Manchester have access to the right skills, technology and infrastructure to be successful, sustainable and to grow? 
  • How can we make sure that Manchester City Council makes the best use of digital and technology to promote a healthy and vibrant democracy with strong civic engagement? 
  • How can we use digital and technology to support those who are excluded, who are isolated or whose circumstances mean they face barriers to fully using technology? 
  • How can we make sure that Manchester continues to be attractive to digital companies and businesses looking to start up, invest or relocate in the city? 

These questions and issues are at the core of both the Digital Strategy and the Delivery Plan which outlines the practical steps that we will be taking, together with our partners and stakeholders, to implement our priorities and support digital programmes and projects over the next five years. 

What is a smart city? 

Manchester has worked with many other European cities over the last 10 years on digital projects with a focus on becoming a "smart city." Rather than have a separate smart city strategy, we have integrated this within our digital strategy underpinned by the following 5 point definition: 

  • Smart Cities enable citizens to have the capacity and confidence to use state-of-the-art future internet technologies to transform the way they live and work and their quality of life.   
  • Smart citizens will collaborate in new and dynamic ways, co-owning new ways of planning and delivering services and co-producing services both for themselves and for those that they live with, care for and work with.   
  • Smart cities will adopt new economic and social opportunities for new ways of working and living 
  • Smart cities will adopt new digital solutions for making environments greener, cleaner and healthier, as well as more open and inclusive. 
  • Smart citizens will ensure that smart cities are more democratic, resilient and attractive, using future internet-enabled services to generate and celebrate creativity, innovation and diversity, especially accessing, shaping and participating in arts and cultural experiences. 

City Context 

All aspects of the digital world now impact on everything we do, living, working, playing and our quality of life. At the same time the ways we want to work, learn, travel and experience life impact on the digital world. This means that it is of fundamental importance to our future success that everyone in Manchester is equipped with the skills and technology to make the most of our rapidly digitising world. 

Fortunately, Manchester is already one of Europe’s fastest growing technology cities. We already have a strong and resilient digital sector, acknowledged as “the UK’s second technology city”, consistently outperforming “all cities outside of London” (The Data City, 2019). This is significant not only in terms of the scale of the sector but also in terms of its scope in covering both established and emerging technologies and providing a talent pool of digital and creative skills supporting consistent growth across all parts of the sector. The recent Tech Nation report 2021 “UK Tech for a Changing Nation” demonstrates the strengths of certain parts of the sector in Manchester, including Service Design, eCommerce, Cyber Security, A.I. and Data Science, as well as in advanced materials. In 2021 Manchester was named as a prime location to start and scale financial technology (Fintech) firm, ranking 34th globally in the Global Fintech Index by Findexable. The Government commissioned “Kalifa Review of UK Fintech” published its findings in 2021 and identified Manchester and Leeds as a ‘Pennines’ Fintech cluster with the highest cluster count outside of London. 

In addition to our thriving businesses, Manchester has a very strong community of people and organisations working in digital environments who interact closely with each other, often referred to as Manchester’s digital ecosystem. This includes support networks for start-ups and scale-ups, its own trade association with Manchester Digital (, skills providers, user groups and tech meet-ups and events. This is central to the city’s continuing economic success and inclusive recovery after the pandemic. 

This ecosystem is complemented by the strength of Manchester’s innovation and creative networks and activities focusing on ethics, diversity and equalities. Manchester’s digital strengths impact on many other sectors as well, being at the forefront of innovation for advanced manufacturing, construction, retail and product & service design sectors. Manchester is also a centre for research and innovation around the idea of “Industry 4.0” especially in advanced manufacturing, robotics and automation and this is already stimulating thinking around the idea of “Industry 5.0”, moving forward to a more people-centric development of industrial digitalisation.  Furthermore, Manchester has a resilient investment pipeline managed through the investment agency MIDAS. 

The new Digital Strategy aims to capitalise on our strengths, while acknowledging current challenges and looking to ways of ensuring inclusive recovery that are both sustainable and resilient, with digital inclusion, equalities and diversity at its heart. We want to put our people at the centre of this, not only making the best of digital to improve our lives but also ensuring that we can play an active role in co-designing and co-producing digital applications and services. Manchester City Council is committed to making this happen and the Digital Strategy is there to provide focus and guidance to do this. 

Policy context 

The Digital Strategy aims to provide the vision and framework to realise Manchester’s ambition to be a world leading Digital City by 2025, aligning with the recent resetting of our priorities in the Our Manchester Strategy, especially in terms of helping us to achieve key aspects of the connected city and liveable city themes. At a wider level it takes forward the “grand challenges” originally set out in the previous UK Industrial Strategy especially in terms of mobility, sustainable growth and ageing population. It also aligns with the City Council’s Culture Recovery Plan, the Our Manchester Industrial Strategy, as well as the GM Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) and the GM Digital Blueprint. 

The priorities of the Manchester Digital Strategy will contribute directly to the delivery of five of the ten Our Manchester Strategy priorities: 

  • We will become a digitally inclusive city, with better digital infrastructure, access to digital technology and strong and lifelong digital skills. 
  • We will maintain Manchester’s vibrancy and ensure that all our communities are included in 
  • We will work to ensure Manchester has a strong, inclusive and innovative economy with diverse growth sectors, where our residents are recognised for their contribution via fair contracts and are paid at least the Real Living Wage. 
  • We will continue to support our residents to learn, progress, upskill and retrain so they can access the city’s current and future employment opportunities. 
  • We will achieve our zero-carbon ambition by 2038 at the latest, via green growth, sustainable design, low-carbon energy, retrofitting buildings, green infrastructure, and increasing climate resilience. 

Another important link for our work on digital will be with the city’s Work and Skills Strategy. This is being refreshed alongside the development of the digital strategy, and the two will need to work together, particularly around skills and training for our residents and businesses. 

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