FEATURE: Sheffield undergoing digital revolution which could lead to major jobs boom

Sheffield is undergoing a digital revolution and the city's technology sector is on the 'cusp of something big' which could see the creation of thousands of jobs.

Tuesday, 20th June 2017, 8:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th June 2017, 2:53 pm

That is the optimistic picture painted in a new wide-ranging document called the 'Digital Report' - which provides a snapshot of the creative digital scene in the area and has been pulled together by industry leaders.

The report highlights how there are more than 14, 000 people employed in the digital/technology sector across Sheffield and Rotherham.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin and Edward Highfield, director of Creative Sheffield, with the report.

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Project leaders say Sheffield is 'on the cusp of something big' as these figures have been rising in the last decade or so.

They have put forward a number of recommendations which if followed could unlock the city's full potential - and lead to the creation of several thousand new jobs in the coming years.

This report will also form part of the ambitious bid to bring Channel 4 headquarters to the city.

Speaking ahead of a launch event at DINA creative hub on Monday, the report's project manager Tamar Millen said: "The report shows Sheffield has the potential talent and creativity to inspire the next generation, the picture that emerges is a city on the cusp of something big. It is an exciting time to be in Sheffield."

A graphic used in the report.

The report was commissioned by the University of Sheffield and Creative Sheffield, the council's economic development arm, and aims to highlight where the digital sector is succeeding and how it could improve.

This is the fourth report of its kind in the last 12 months after three previous reports focused on the contribution of the music, art and beer sectors - the latter of which found Sheffield could claim to be the 'real ale capital of the world'.

A specialist team including representatives from the council, university and digital industry experts worked together for three months to produce the document.

They spoke to dozens of firms specialising in areas such as digital design, computer games and digital art.

Some of the equipment used at Ten24.

The report reveals that the city's digital sector is booming.

Sheffield and Rotherham are identified in the Tech Nation 2017 report as being one of the seven 'tech clusters' in the North of England.

In Sheffield, there was a 27 per cent increase in the number of digital tech businesses from 2011 to 2015, while more than 160 digital tech businesses were formed alone in 2015.

Digital companies in Sheffield also boast one of the highest growth rates of any area in the UK with turnover increasing at 47 per cent.

An impression of the type of building that could be built to house the new Channel 4 headquarters.

There are more than 21, 000 people employed in the digital sector across the South Yorkshire region, including more than 14, 000 in Sheffield and Rotherham alone.

Meanwhile the top 25 tech companies in the Sheffield City Region bring in more than £2 billion a year to the local economy.

The report describes Sheffield's digital scene as being "characterised by large ambition, with a home grown feel and tight nit and supportive community."

A number of individual city firms are highlighted for their outstanding performance.

This ranges from major employers such as internet service provider Plusnet - turnover £267 million - to smaller firms like Airstoc, which allows the public to hire drone pilots to film footage, which raised £500, 000 in 2014.

Other companies were praised for their innovative projects, such as Ten24 - a studio which provides CGI footage for the film and games industry and has worked with major studios including Warner Brothers and Pixar, and produced material for games such as Final Fantasy and films like Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The launch of the Digital Report.

It says the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre also has a key role to play in ensuring growth in the digital sector.

Meanwhile, the report highlights the importance of offering opportunities to the digital talent coming through the two universities.

A number of recommendations are offered on how the digital sector could grow further in the city.

These include creating a coordinated marketing campaign between the different businesses and launching a website to highlight success stories.

There is also a concern in the industry about a lack of space for new or expanding companies, and a series of 'hubs' to give firms a base should be created.

It is recommended the city should host more events with key speakers and invite representatives from digital companies in other cities across the North to attend.

Laura Bennett, digital industry expert and report author, said that while it is difficult to put precise figures on jobs growth, she believes that if the recommendations are followed and the digital boom continues at the same rate, then Sheffield could overtake other major cities.

She highlighted how the number of digital tech jobs in Sheffield and Rotherham stands at around 14, 300. Leeds has 23, 700 ad Newcastle and Durham has 22, 200.

She added: "We are talking about similar size cities here, so I see no reason why Sheffield should not catch up, indeed surpass these figures if we get a move on with implementing some of the recommendations.

"The recommendations are really a call to action to make what we've got even better."

The report will be submitted as part of a bid to bring Channel 4 headquarters to Sheffield after the Government said the publicly-funded broadcaster would move from its London base.

Bid leaders have earmarked vacant land in Sheaf Square near the railway station as a potential base for the new headquarters.

Laura said: "The fact that we are in a position as a city to consider throwing out hat into the ring for C4 to move here is testament to the strength in the creative digital sector."

Bid supporter Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of city and cultural engagement at the University of Sheffield, said: “We now need to work collectively to attract and retain Sheffield’s digital talent and cultivate the digital leaders of the future.”

Professor Vanessa Toulmin and Edward Highfield, director of Creative Sheffield, with the report.
A graphic used in the report.
Some of the equipment used at Ten24.
An impression of the type of building that could be built to house the new Channel 4 headquarters.
The launch of the Digital Report.