23 Apr 2024

Event round-up: West Midlands Tech Hustings

On 10 April techUK was delighted to host a Mayoral Tech Hustings for the West Midlands.

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 Street (Conservative Party Candidate), Lee Dargue (Liberal Democrats Party spokesperson), Paul Hopkins (Reform Party spokesperson), and the discussion was moderated by Tracy Pound, Founder and MD of Maximity and Chair of the Board of Directors at CompTIA. The other candidates invited were Siobhan Harper-Nunes (The Green Party, who was unfortunately unwell) and Richard Parker (Labour Party).

6.png 2

Opening statements

Andy Street highlighted the pivotal role of digital connectivity in uniting the economy. Transport investment has surged tenfold in the past seven years, making our region a leader in meeting social housing goals. Our robust skills and training initiatives have cultivated a skilled workforce. The pervasive influence of technology is evident across various sectors. Looking ahead, priorities include bolstering social housing, enhancing transport infrastructure, and generating thousands of new jobs.

Lee Dargue emphasized the significance of technology across diverse sectors such as education, food, transport, and universities, highlighting its intrinsic connection to people's needs and current usage. Small and medium enterprises require substantial support to thrive, necessitating targeted investment and growth assistance. The education budget should be significantly allocated towards upskilling and reskilling initiatives, recognizing the evolving nature of employment and the imperative to align skills with technological opportunities.

Paul Hopkins said that we are in an age where we should all have access to internet connectivity but unfortunately this is not always the case and they would like to change this.

Digital infrastructure and communication

Andy said that techUK produces a ranking which shows how regions are performing (reference to the Local Digital Index) and that West Midlands is on the second place for connectivity. The breakthrough was that in first year he was Mayor they have won the competition for 5G testbed, so it’s clear evidence they have prioritised this and made progress. However, there are still areas that are poorly serviced and they are committed to do more around this.

Paul emphasized the importance of thorough assessment to determine precise needs and evaluate existing efficacy before charting a path forward. Identifying root causes is crucial to devising effective solutions. He expressed a commitment to acting in the best interests of the people of West Midlands.

Lee proposed the concept of a chief digital officer (CDO) as a positive step, emphasizing that technology integration should not be treated as an add-on. A CDO should be involved in all aspects of operations, including healthcare and wellbeing strategies. He highlighted challenges such as delivering fibre connectivity in areas with difficult infrastructure, suggesting alternative solutions like renting 5G routers to improve connectivity and ensuring access to necessary equipment. Additionally, Lee stressed the importance of supporting individuals with training and upskilling to effectively utilise technology.


Digital Skills  

Paul emphasized the importance of supporting adult learning by fostering collaboration between educational institutions and local businesses, including the development of AI learning opportunities. Addressing digital exclusion is a pressing concern, with many individuals lacking basic digital skills. He proposed leveraging libraries as centers for learning and community engagement, expanding their IT resources and partnering with local colleges. The focus would be on providing computer training and promoting digital literacy. Additionally, Paul advocated for increased pressure on broadband providers to offer social tariffs and encouraged businesses to repurpose their IT resources for the benefit of communities.

Lee advocated for the implementation of the skills wallet policy proposed by the Liberal Democrats, which would provide individuals with a fund to invest in courses relevant to their career paths or aspirations. This policy would particularly benefit those seeking to transition into new careers or industries. He emphasized the importance of integrating digital aspects into green jobs and investments, underscoring the need for digital integration throughout the industrial strategy. Additionally, Lee highlighted the lag in the education sector's adaptation to technological advancements and urged for its prioritization in educational reform.

Andy highlighted several initiatives aligned with the techUK Mayoral Manifesto, including the appointment of Martin Ward as tech commissioner, establishment of a digital advisory board, and fostering the growth of TechWM. Recognizing skills as pivotal to business growth, he urged for reflection on past actions. Andy emphasized the success of digital bootcamps pioneered in Birmingham, now implemented nationwide, which have increased employment rates without upfront costs for participants until they reach a certain income threshold. Shifting focus from generic to technical skills, Andy emphasized listening to employers' needs and investing in specialized training programs such as cyber, telecoms, and immersive technologies. He emphasized that technology drives growth across all sectors of the economy, and efforts have been made to address digital exclusion by providing devices to thousands of people and utilizing local institutions to support communities.

Artificial Intelligence

Lee highlighted the significant role of technology in revolutionizing the transportation sector, with AI driving improvements in safety and efficiency. Despite some negative perceptions, AI already enhances various aspects of daily life, such as education, by augmenting teaching quality both in and out of classrooms. He emphasized the widespread opportunities for technological advancements across all sectors and stressed the importance of ensuring access to resources. Lee noted that councils are actively seeking ways to reduce costs and streamline services, necessitating both connectivity and trained personnel to operate systems effectively. While acknowledging the longstanding presence of AI, he underscored the importance of providing opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to thrive and expand.

Andy acknowledged the critical importance of AI for the region, expressing a willingness to seek advice from experts in the field. He proposed the establishment of an AI taskforce to provide guidance on leveraging AI effectively. Andy highlighted the transformative potential of AI in public services, citing the example of community diagnostics centers utilizing AI for more accurate assessments than human examinations. He emphasized the need to delegate routine tasks to AI to enable individuals to focus on more advanced responsibilities. Given that professional services are the largest employer in the region, Andy emphasized the necessity of upskilling workers for higher-value roles likely to remain unaffected by AI. Additionally, he announced the launch of a funded program focused on AI.

Paul – did not provide a comment on this aspect.

All the candidates standing in the election are:

Siobhan HARPER-NUNES Green Party
Richard PARKER Labour and Co-operative Party
Andy STREET  The Conservative Party Candidate
Sunny VIRK    Liberal Democrats
Elaine WILLIAMS   Reform UK
Akhmed YAKOOB Independent

You can watch the recording of the debate below.

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson

Head of Nations and Regions, techUK

Matt is techUK’s Head of Nations and Regions.

Matt is leading techUK’s work with members and stakeholders across the UK to increase the Local Digital Capital across the UK’s nation and regions, build communities and to ensure that digital technology plays a key part the post-COVID-19 levelling-up recovery.

Prior to joining techUK, Matt worked for several national education charities and membership bodies to develop their regional partnerships with schools, academy trusts, local authorities, and other stakeholders. He’s also worked with local authority leaders and other stakeholders to engage communities, work with elected members and improve public services.

He holds a BA in Politics from the University of York and an MA in International Relations from the University of Leeds. Away from work he’s a keen football fan and golfer.

If you’d like to find out more about our work in the nations and regions please get in touch with Matt:

[email protected]

Read lessmore

Ileana Lupsa

Ileana Lupsa

Programme Manager, Local Public Services and Nations and Regions, techUK

Ileana Lupsa is the Programme Manager for Local Public Services and Nations and Regions, at techUK.

Ileana studied electronics, telecommunications and IT as an undergraduate, followed by an MSc in engineering and project management at Coventry University.

She refined her programme management expertise through her most recent roles working in the automotive industry.

Ileana is passionate about sustainability and creating a positive impact globally through innovation.

[email protected]

Read lessmore

techUK – Building Stronger Local Economies 


techUK champions the tech sector throughout the UK. We work with local authorities, devolved government, and local and national policy makers to advocate for the tech sector in strengthening economic growth and resilience. We provide opportunities for our members and local stakeholders to meet, build relationships, and collaborate to drive forward local projects. For more information or to get in touch, please visit our Nations and Regions Hub and click ‘contact us’. 

Upcoming Nations and Regions events:

Latest news and insights:

Get our Nations and Regions insights straight to your inbox:

Sign-up to get the latest updates and opportunities from our Nations and Regions programme.


Contact the team:

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson

Head of Nations and Regions, techUK

Ileana Lupsa

Ileana Lupsa

Programme Manager, Local Public Services and Nations and Regions, techUK

Learn more about our Nations and Regions campaign: