Hundreds of small businesses are set to benefit from a landmark investment in digital innovation by the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA).

A partnership struck with the £30 million National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) at Newcastle University will use data science to help businesses plot their next steps in the recovery from Covid-19. And investment in the Digital Catapult North East will see at least 230 businesses supported through digital training, diversification and growth with the creation of 30 jobs and the protection of 50 others.

It comes as the Combined Authority invites ideas for a further £5m of funding that is making available to support the digital sector. The investments are made as part of the £10 million North of Tyne Digital Growth and Innovation Programme, which at 17% of its budget over the next three years is the combined authority’s biggest spending commitment since it was set up in November 2018.

The NTCA Digital Growth and Innovation Programme will be spent between 2020-23 on

  • Investing in small and medium sized businesses.
  • Training hundreds of people in digital skills alongside the private sector.
  • Growing the digital sector with new business start-ups and business acceleration programmes.
Man painting a picture of the Tyne Bridge in front of the Tyne Bridge.

Newcastle was one of only four UK cities to make The Smart City Index.

The announcement comes just days after Newcastle beat cities including Los Angeles, Berlin, and Hong Kong in a list of the world’s top technology cities. Newcastle was one of only four UK cities to make The Smart City Index, with Newcastle ranked 23rd in the world, ahead of larger places including San Francisco, Toronto, and Chicago. It is hoped the global ranking – the first time Newcastle has appeared on the list – will help attract investment and talent to North of Tyne’s growing digital economy.

The NTCA  will invest £1.6m alongside investment from Newcastle University in the NICD. This will improve access to expertise available through NICD for businesses in the North of Tyne area who want to unlock improvements in their performance or to innovate using their data. Data Scientists using advanced data techniques will work alongside more than 230 North of Tyne SMEs to unlock training opportunities and opportunities for improvements in productivity. This will be of particular benefit to sectors of the economy that are traditionally low paid and of low productivity, such as social care, tourism, and hospitality.

It will also help attract highly skilled graduates and staff, making the North of Tyne a centre of excellence for digital talent, creativity and research expertise and contributing to the creation of a greener, more fair economy as we recover from Covid-19. The £1.54 million Digital Adoption North of Tyne project will be delivered by Digital Catapult NE and Tees Valley, with the combined authority providing £0.75 million funding. It will be used to grow a ‘digital ecosystem’ in the North East, by supporting SMEs which have plans to develop digitally that will benefit the digital economy of the region.

Over the next three years, these businesses will be offered digital adoption assessment, training, and support to make improvement through better use of digital approaches.This could involve help to trade online, the adoption of new and emerging technologies, or to meet demand for digital content, new and remote-working technologies, apps, cloud infrastructure, and security software.

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A further £5m of funding has been made available with a call for ideas that can have a significant impact on the growth and success of the digital economy in the North of Tyne for years to come. The details are available through the North of Tyne Combined Authority website.


Image of Cllr Forbes.

                                                                                         Cllr Nick Forbes

North of Tyne Cabinet Member for Business Competitiveness and Leader of Newcastle City Council Cllr Nick Forbes said: “This is a digital investment that looks to the future. Our digital sector is already one of the fastest growing sectors anywhere in the UK. This is because the North of Tyne offers not just the right digital community and infrastructure but also the ideal place to live, work, and grow your business, in a wider ecosystem of economic support.

“These investments – in digital skills so people can access the jobs of the future and in one of our chief regional assets which is the National Innovation Centre for Data – will be absolutely crucial for small businesses to survive in the post-covid economy. They are about shaping the market, preparing ourselves for Brexit, and accelerating the huge potential of our digital economy, not least in opportunities for job creation in a North of Tyne that is more inclusive, more innovative, more productive, and greener than before.”

The investments were hailed by North of Tyne-based software giant Sage PLC. More than half of all digital jobs in the North East are in the North of Tyne area. Our digital economy boasts expertise in gaming, age related technology, finance tech (fin-tech), immersive technologies and software, big data and robotics.

The NTCA Digital Growth and Innovation Programme developed in partnership with businesses and stakeholders compliments significant investment in local full-fibre network which connects people and businesses to local, national, and international markets, also in broadband infrastructure and North Sea cabling to improve international communications. Both Newcastle and Northumbria universities play a significant role in the digital economy by providing graduates ad postgraduates with advanced digital skills.

So far, the NTCA has committed £38.62 million to projects, gained more than £100 million of private sector leverage, and created a forecasted 2,732 jobs. NTCA hopes to maintain the rapid progress with this latest investment.

Image of Newcastle Central Station, Hadrian's Wall signpost and Spanish City in Whitley Bay

More than half of all digital jobs in the North East are in the North of Tyne area.

Sage Chief Operating Officer Lee Perkins led praise for the investment. He said: “Since the outset of devolution to the North of Tyne, Sage has been enthusiastic about the opportunity to bring forward new and innovative locally-driven initiatives to enhance the region’s economy. Sage, in consultation with other local businesses and industry leaders, put forward recommendations to the North of Tyne Combined Authority for a data-led plan for SME growth.

“These proposals are now being put into action in what is set to be a major boost for the region’s small businesses. There is much to be excited about the region’s tech economy. The NTCA Digital Growth and Innovation Programme not only provides a further lift for our sector, it also importantly recognises that the use of technology and leveraging data are crucial enablers for growth across all SMEs

“A new programme to boost the adoption of digital tools and the partnership with the National Innovation Centre for Data to equip SMEs with better data insights offers particularly good news for the region’s small businesses. These initiatives will benefit hundreds of SMEs in the region. This comes at a critical time, as it has never been more important to embrace digital tools as the economy looks to respond to the challenges of Covid-19.”

Dr Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult North East said: “Adopting advanced digital technologies will help businesses recover and thrive as we look to move beyond the current crisis, and early adoption gives companies a competitive edge. But advanced digital technologies are complex and require investment to get users up the learning curve. The North of Tyne Combined Authority has recognised it is imperative that we accelerate this process and we’re very pleased to support them in delivering this activity to help North East businesses.”

NICD Director Steve Caughey said: “NICD has a national remit but, as demand for help with data across the UK is so high, does not have the capacity to help everyone. This NTCA investment will allow us to deliver a bespoke programme focussed on the North of Tyne, helping more regional companies to grow by enabling them to use their data to address their business questions. All organisations, irrespective of market sector or size, hold data which contains critical information on operational performance and on their clients.

“Whether the data relates to the supply chain, manufacturing production, or customer sales and social media traffic, properly analysed, data will enable more robust business decisions. NICD can help North of Tyne companies harness this value by understanding how to gain insight from data.” Collecting and analysing data is essential if the region is to better understand its problems, including the impact of Covid, and potential solutions. Access to NICD places the North of Tyne in a unique position to build an effective Office for Data Analytics capable of turning data into actionable insight to the benefit of the region’s economy and its citizens.”