The Sharp Project Manchester
The Sharp Project, Manchester's digital content production complex, is one of the council's key tech growth areas

Manchester progresses plans for city tech incubator

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

Manchester City Council is set to look for a partner to deliver a tech hub in the city centre, as part of a Government initiative supporting digital start-ups, known as Project Forward.

The council has released a report ahead of a meeting of its executive on 2 March, outlining how it will spend a £4m Government grant, allocated by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in his March 2015 budget. The grant was part of an £11m pot to support incubators in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.

In the budget, Osborne announced the 87,500 sq ft Federation House in the Co-operative and Hermes’ NOMA as the location for Manchester’s hub. At the time, the potential occupier of the facility was referred to as Forward Plan.

Forward Plan was an initiative being brought forward by Doug Ward and Shaun Gibson, co-founders of flexible workspace SpacePortX in the Northern Quarter.

However, there has been no announcement of a deal at Federation House, and the executive report says that the location for the hub is yet to be decided. The council has suggested three areas which best support digital expertise; the Sharp Project, Media City in Salford and the Northern Quarter.

Meanwhile, the Co-operative is rumoured to be expanding its digital team, and has earmarked Federation House as a base.

In the report, the council said that the £4m would be paid directly to Manchester City Council, and that it would be the body held accountable for Project Forward delivering set outcomes.

The council is producing a vision document to show how the objectives of the scheme can be realised, and then will look for a delivery partner. A criteria of the £4m grant is that it has to be used to help to secure and refurbish a property in the city to provide tech workspaces.

The report said that “the City Council via a procurement process will deliver a facility that demonstrates value for money and that remains fit for purpose and sustainable for the next 10 years.”

When announced by Osborne in 2015, Forward was due to work as part of Tech North, the organisation set up by then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in 2014 to spearhead technology growth in Northern cities. Tech North was expected to benefit from business rates incentives, emulating Tech City UK in Shoreditch, London.

However, news of progress at Tech North has been quiet, and several senior figures have left the organisation in recent weeks. Head of Tech North Claire Braithwaite resigned at the end of January and reappeared at the Manchester Growth Company in February. Paul Lancaster, community engagement manager, and Coral Grainger, head of talent and skills, are also both due to leave Tech North this month.

Edwards & Co was representing Forward Plan on the Federation House deal, and was unavailable to comment. SpacePortX and NOMA were also unavailable to comment.

Your Comments

We’re big supporters of Forward and a shout-out to Doug Ward who was the lead catalyst behind Forward in the first place.

Tech North has always been completely separate from Forward from Day One. We very much look forward to supporting its growth and collaborating with Forward to help grow the startup communities in Manchester and the wider North.

While Claire Braithwaite did resign rather suddenly, the Tech North team are bravely marching on. We are working currently with DCMS to ensure a further £4m of investment will be made into Tech North over the next two years. While you seem focussed on highlighting bad news, internally we’re working hard for the future of this vital sector for North’s economy.

It’s a shame to lose Paul & Coral but we – along with 150 digital Mancunians – will be sending them off with a great farewell this Friday. Both will be leaving us on highly positive terms. Coral’s work continues on with the first Tech North Talent & Skills Summit in March and we’re exploring how we can continue working with Paul from 1 April when he sets up his own business.

Thanks for your interest in Tech North.

Herb Kim
Interim Head of Tech North

By Herb Kim

“Tech North has always been completely separate from Forward from Day One.” Not so – Tech City’s Gerard Grech was heavily involved in the decision for the funding to go to Ward.

By Anon

Does anyone know what has happened to the additional £20m of private investment that was promised?

By Anon

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