26 Mar 2024

Event round-up: Mayoral Tech Hustings for the Greater Manchester

On 21 March techUK was delighted to host a Mayoral Tech Hustings for the Greater Manchester.

This provided the Mayoral candidates an opportunity to discuss their plans and proposals, as well as for the local tech community to find out more and ask questions. 

We were joined by Andy Burnham (Labour Party) and Jake Austin (Liberal Democrats Party) and the discussion was moderated by techUK’s Director for Technology and Innovation, Sue Daley. 

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Opening statements 

The hustings started with an opening statement from each candidate. Jake Austin highlighted his passion for technology innovation and his work within the Stockport Council administration, saying that we need to focus on the ability to connect people whether is through digital infrastructure, transport, or by connecting people to the right organisations, as well as tackling digital exclusion. Andy Burnham said highlighted that he his now standing for election for a third term, and showed how he contributed to the development of this exciting, forward thinking city region, becoming UK’s leading digital city region being the fastest growing digital and tech hub in Europe. Andy also mentioned his focus on building an inclusive digital economy, supporting economic and social progress, as we are seeing an increase in start-ups, a more diverse workforce and tech innovation in AI, cyber, fintech, creative tech and more. 

Digital infrastructure and communication 

Andy Burnham said that the recent digital summit showcased ambitious goals, with an impressive achievement of 90% broadband connectivity already realized, thanks to significant improvements in digital infrastructure facilitated by collaboration with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Furthermore, there has been a notable increase in fiber connectivity. However, reaching the remaining households, particularly those in harder-to-access areas, will require innovative solutions. Despite strides made, the launch of bus tracking across all Greater Manchester areas reveals lingering connectivity challenges in certain regions. Nonetheless, efforts are underway to build upon the strong groundwork laid in terms of fixed connectivity. 

Jake Austin said that while acknowledging the advancements in infrastructure and connectivity, it's apparent that the focus remains primarily on densely populated areas. This leaves regions without access to 4G, 5G, or fiber technology, particularly in rural and remote areas, underserved. There's a risk that in the pursuit of connecting as many people as possible, communities on the outskirts may be neglected. Recognizing the vital importance of digital access for all, it's imperative to ensure equitable distribution of resources. A proposed solution involves a commissioner review of digital infrastructure to pinpoint areas lacking connectivity and prioritize them for intervention.  

Skills and creating opportunities 

Jake Austin said that efforts are underway across Greater Manchester to retrain adults seeking entry into the tech industry. In Stockport specifically, a program has been initiated to equip individuals with essential digital skills for everyday life. Moreover, the program facilitates connections with local organizations offering free coding classes, fostering a pathway into the tech sector. This successful initiative in Stockport serves as a model to be replicated throughout Greater Manchester, aiming to empower individuals with the necessary skills to thrive in the digital economy while promoting collaboration with local organizations. 

Andy Burnham said that the concept of a Greater Manchester (GM) baccalaureate is gaining traction, signalling a shift towards prioritizing technical education. This initiative is empowered by the devolution deal's trailblazer powers, redirecting focus to provide equal opportunity pathways beyond traditional university routes. Recognizing that the current educational system often fails to cater to the needs of two-thirds of students, who may not excel in traditional academic settings, there's a push for reform. The proposed GM baccalaureate seeks to rectify this by incorporating compulsory computer science or ICT qualifications alongside traditional subjects. Additionally, engineering is highlighted as a crucial component deserving inclusion within this framework. By broadening the curriculum to encompass a diverse range of subjects, the GM baccalaureate aims to better prepare students for future success in both higher education and the workforce. Andy also highlighted the need to collaborate with the tech sector. 

Jake Austin mentioned he doesn’t necessarily believe prescribing the routes forward for students would be the right approach and should give people the freedom to choose which subjects are more important for them. 

Cyber literacy, cyber crime and cyber sector 

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Jake Austin said that raising awareness and staying updated on cybercriminal tactics are crucial in combating cybercrime. Efforts are underway to enhance digital skills providers in regional areas, aiming to equip individuals with knowledge of evolving threats. Collaboration with law enforcement agencies and third-sector organizations is essential, despite resource constraints and challenges from central government. Together, these efforts aim to strengthen defences and mitigate risks posed by cybercriminal activities. 

Andy Burnham said that with half of financial crime now attributed to cybercrime, it's imperative to elevate our response to this growing threat. The presence of significant cyber players in our city underscores the urgency for action. To address this challenge comprehensively, there's a pressing need for a Greater Manchester (GM) cyber summit. This platform would facilitate collaboration and strategizing among key stakeholders. It's paramount that we prioritize the protection of our residents against cyber threats. By convening such a summit, we can ensure a concerted effort to strengthen our defences and mitigate the risks posed by cybercrime. 

Artificial Intelligence  

Andy Burnham said he is part of the Bloomberg mayoral group, which in collaboration with the US mayors group, is spearheading initiatives such as a pilot program with Google to address traffic lights and congestion. These endeavours offer significant advantages for a forward-looking economy focused on modernization. Additionally, life sciences clusters present opportunities for transformative applications of AI, particularly in fields like healthcare. Moreover, integrating AI into social media platforms can enhance online safety measures, protecting users from various threats. These concerted efforts demonstrate how AI technology plays a crucial role in keeping people safer online, paving the way for a more secure digital environment. 

Jake Austin said that amidst the ongoing tech evolution, finding balance between opportunities and risks is key. Just as with past innovations like the internet and smartphones, the implications of AI are significant. It's crucial for Greater Manchester to harness AI's potential for productivity and efficiency while managing associated risks effectively. 

All the candidates standing in the election are:

Liberal Democrats  Jake Austin      
Reform UK             Dan Barker      
Independent            Nick Buckley      
Labour Co-op         Andy Burnham      
Conservative           Laura Evans      
Green                      Hannah Spencer


You can watch the event recording below:



On 10 April we will also host a Tech Hustings for West Midlands and you can find more details and register your place here.  


techUK – Building Stronger Local Economies 


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Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson

Head of Nations and Regions, techUK

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Ileana Lupsa

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