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Sean Anstee: Greater Manchester's future must be digital

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It’s not overstatement to say the success of Greater Manchester’s huge ambitions are inextricably linked to its digital future.

This is a city region that has never waited for permission, and it is a place that can be a world leader in defining what it means to live well in cities in this modern, well connected and growing world.

We are becoming more connected and populations more aware of the outside world. This means Greater Manchester isn’t just looking south to Birmingham, across to Leeds or up to Newcastle, but globally to cities like Chicago, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

And while places all have their own defining characteristics and ways of doing things, there is one thing that we all need to achieve our dreams: digital connectivity and skills. Without them, it will be more difficult to prosper and survive in the future.

Good progress is being made in Manchester. The recent Tech Nation Report 2018 proves how important this agenda is. There is £3.2bn turnover for digital tech businesses in the city – an increase of more than 50% in just four years.

It’s a similar story in employment too, where today 30,683 people work in our sector compared to 21,699 in 2014.

Standing still isn’t an option, and we must embrace the opportunities technological innovation presents. To not do so would let down a generation of people and businesses that will rely on connectivity to meet their future needs.

While things look bright already for the city region, they can further shine as progress is made rolling out of local full fibre networks and implementing of Greater Manchester’s Digital Strategy. The same is true elsewhere and there is so much untapped potential to be released in cities where they get this right.

Devolution properly executed is a game changer, ensuring populations feel included in cities’ digital revolutions. The ability to align skills and digital policy while engaging with employers both within and outside of the tech sector will create unique opportunities.

There may sometimes be nervousness or scepticism surrounding a digital future, especially amongst an older population, but embracing it has the potential to transform public services, life chances and economies for the better.

The leadership shown in Greater Manchester, as indeed elsewhere across the country, on getting is this far is to be applauded. The challenge now is to push more boundaries, deliver on promises and go faster than we ever have before.

Sean Anstee (Con), former leader, Trafford MBC

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