The Council and democracy Manchester Digital Strategy 2021 – 2026

How we developed this strategy

Evidence Base 

In addition to listening to people and organisations in the city, there is also a significant body of evidence that tells us about the present state of the digital sector in Manchester and how well our residents can benefit from it. Manchester’s Digital Exclusion Index provides valuable insight and data to show how digital exclusion affects different people and communities in the city. A range of reports and research from industry bodies and organisations demonstrates our strengths in certain sub-sectors and promote the city to investors worldwide. 

The recent GM Industry Labour Market and Skills Intelligence Report ( makes recommendations to ensure that there are more flexible routes into digital/tech industries and that “inclusivity should be embedded in all skills initiatives” which are particularly relevant to this strategy. 

Resources that we have used to inform this strategy include: 

  • Manchester Digital Skills Audit (2021 and previous) 
  • Manchester High School Digital Audit (2019) 
  • GM Industry Labour Market and Skills Intelligence Report 
  • Manchester City Council’s Digital Exclusion Index 
  • Greater Manchester Emerging Technologies Sectors. Sensemaking & Narrative Report 
  • Smart and green: joining up digital and environmental priorities” (Green Alliance, October 2020) 

This information tells us that our strengths are: 

  • Our digital economy is worth over £5bn, employs over 88,000 people and is home to over 10,000 businesses 
  • Manchester now has five “unicorns” (companies valued at over £1bn), all of which are in e-commerce sector. 
  • Our digital “ecosystem” continues to grow and develop around the city centre, with Circle Square, the new innovation district, “ID Manchester”, together with Enterprise City (St. John’s) and developments in NOMA and the Northern Quarter. 
  • Manchester is one of the best places to operate a digital business, with a strong digital ecosystem, improving talent pipeline, and increasingly attractive destination for investment. 
  • Our Digital Skills Network already brings together over 200 creative and digital, and education and skills professionals, with a broad purpose of sharing good practice and collaborating on activity that tackles Manchester’s digital skills challenge. 
  • Our Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector has highlighted throughout the importance of grass roots, community-based initiatives, often run by small charities and self-help networks, in promoting digital inclusion. 
  • It is widely recognised that Manchester has a strong talent pool based on a growing workforce which is young, diverse and increasingly well-educated with the skills and capacities to support further growth in the digital/tech sector, attracting new investment and relocations.   
  • Manchester’s digital skills ecosystem is well placed to continue to support this with universities, colleges, business and the VCSE sector working closely together to ensure that additional capacity can be created and delivered to support the continued growth of the sector and inclusion of more of the City’s residents in the opportunities it creates. 
  • Manchester’s strengths in research and innovation have long made the city a place of choice for investment and talent, particularly focusing on the universities and related research agencies and networks. 
  • Many parts of the innovation ecosystem are already actively engaged in the wider communities in which they are based, including providing access for local people and business to the experience and expertise that they have available 
  • Manchester is home to an emerging new wave of ethical tech businesses and digital not-for-profits which builds upon existing strengths of other pioneering initiatives including Future Everything, Open Data Manchester and the Manchester Digital Laboratory (MadLab). 
  • Manchester’s universities provide a foundation for digital innovation and research and the talent pool to attract investment for future prosperity. 

It also tells us that we face the following challenges: 

  • 25% of Manchester LSOAs are within the highest scoring groups on our Digital Exclusion Index with a very high risk of being digitally excluded.  
  • Data shows that there is a strong link between digital exclusion and social exclusion.  
  • There is a lack of diversity in the sector which contributes to making it unattractive or inaccessible for some of our residents. 
  • There is a need to create a strong offer for digital skills learning to meet the needs of new entrants to the labour market, as well as others who have become recently unemployed or underemployed.  
  • There is a need to focus on meeting the needs for advanced digital skills, as specialist sectors of the ecosystem continue to grow rapidly and require higher level technical skills.  Inability to meet these skill needs will constrain growth. 
  • Manchester Digital’s annual Skills Audit highlights skills shortages, including specific shortages in areas such as DevOps and software engineering.  These have been consistently the areas with the highest levels of skill shortages for a decade.  While there are many good programmes & initiatives, these need to be scaled up. 
  • There is a lack leadership and management capacity in Manchester, though there is also demand from employees to develop these skills. 
  • More support is needed to help people retrain, reskill and to develop the entrepreneurial skills they need so that they can form their own businesses and networks.  
  • There is a need to make sure that we continue to provide high capacity, accessible and future-proofed infrastructure to support future growth. 

Listening and engagement  

The new Digital Strategy is based on the engagement and discussion with 63 partners and networks across the city during the past year. It also considers the recommendations from a report by ARUP commissioned by the City Council following their evaluation of the CityVerve project, which provided an external overview of Manchester’s current digital policies and strategies. This included lessons learnt from case studies of Digital Strategies from across the UK and globally. 

A formal consultation process took place from September 2020 to March 2021 with business, public and VCSE sectors and community organisations and networks. This resulted in many suggestions for new and innovative digital ideas for services and projects which have been incorporated into this strategy. 

The consultation feedback showed that we need to: 

  • Support the continued growth of the sector in Manchester to enable a much wider growth of jobs, skills and innovation; 
  • Build on our success and incorporate the lessons learned from recent major projects including Triangulum, CityVerve, Synchronicity and SmartImpact; 
  • Build on our strengths in the grassroots networks of digital innovators, entrepreneurs and activists to challenge ethical, diversity and equalities issues; 
  • Build on our local sector strengths which include Fintech, e-commerce, cybersecurity and digital creative. 
  • Continue to support the growth of the innovation ecosystem, especially in local universities and their partnerships with businesses and the wider community; 
  • Continue to support and grow Manchester’s networks with other cities across the world, to enable the exchange of knowledge and ideas and the sharing of best practice. 

In addition to the direct consultation on this strategy, in 2020 Manchester completed the reset of the Our Manchester strategy having undertaken significant engagement with people and organisations in the city. The findings of the consultation for this process showed us that: 

Our residents have a strong preference for prioritising equality and inclusion, making sure all people have the same life chances. 

Our residents want to make sure that everyone, especially young people, have the skills and experience they need to be successful. 

Our businesses want to make sure that we have the right infrastructure to grow and to compete globally. 

Our businesses want to ensure access to a highly skilled workforce with strong pipeline of talent. 

All groups consulted recognise the importance of digital, with a particular focus on inclusion, and that access to technology, infrastructure and skills as being essential to our future success. 

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