Vodafone calls for ‘brain gain’ to spark a digital revolution across the UK

March 21, 2018

Towns and cities outside London could accelerate growth and productivity by implementing ‘brain gain’ policies to attract and retain digital talent, a report published by Vodafone shows. These policies aim to spur regional growth, and could help to spark a digital revolution across the country, enabling towns and cities to fully exploit the huge economic and social benefits of new technologies.

As a British business which employs over 12,000 people in the UK, Vodafone is committed to supporting regional development. The report Vodafone commissioned uses in-depth interviews with combined authorities, business groups and digital innovators in Greater Manchester, the Tees Valley and the West Midlands to highlight the ground-breaking digital initiatives taking place across the UK.

Titled ‘Brain Gain: How to attract, retain and reconnect digital talent’, the report argues that for towns and cities to make full use of the opportunities technology brings, a supply of digital talent is key. It examines the ‘brain drain’ issue that regions across the UK face when it comes to keeping hold of their graduates. Over 100,000 people have left the regions they lived and studied in within six months of graduating in order to start work elsewhere, with London as the main beneficiary, according to data from the Higher Education Statistical Agency. [i] That’s why the report recommends a set of policies to help regions across the country attract and retain highly qualified workers, including:

  • A national and local audit of unused or underused public sector buildings which could be converted into low-cost offices for digital start-ups
  • A commitment by universities to allow their students to use their buildings to start up a business for 12 months after graduation
  • Allowing Apprenticeship Levy funds to be used for retraining and upskilling returners – people who have been on a career break, often due to caring responsibilities, and would like to return to work.

The report also finds that upgrading the country’s digital infrastructure will be vital if policymakers are to encourage highly qualified workers to move to towns and cities across the UK to begin careers and start businesses. As part of its commitment to investing in regional development, Vodafone recently announced a deal with CityFibre to provide gigabit-capable full fibre broadband to approximately 12 cities, reaching one million homes across the UK by 2021.

Vodafone UK Chief Executive Nick Jeffery said: “The UK is ideally placed to be a world leading digital centre. We have a great education system, a rich industrial heritage and outstanding businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators.

“However, for our towns and cities to realise their full potential, we need to create the right conditions for success. This means a base of digital talent, underpinned by infrastructure investment that helps to attract people and businesses who can drive greater economic growth. Part of the solution is turning a ‘brain drain’ of talent into a ‘brain gain.’”

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries said: “We want the UK to be the best place to start and grow a digital business with opportunities spread across the country so everyone benefits and I welcome Vodafone’s work on this report.

“We have delivered superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises and government is supporting the development of Local Digital Skills Partnerships to help regional businesses grow. Looking ahead to the future, our investment in nine centres for doctoral training in data science and the National Innovation Centre for Data will help nurture upcoming talent.”

Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “To build a balanced economy that works for everyone, we need to create the right conditions for great cities such as Newcastle to flourish. We have world class universities and businesses in the North East and we need to make sure we fully benefit from the huge opportunities that the digital revolution offers. I look forward to working with Vodafone, a leader in the tech sector, and others to ensure the country is well placed to become a globally competitive digital centre of excellence.”

Ben Houchen, the Mayor of Tees Valley said: “Attracting the brightest and best to Tees Valley is a major priority of mine. Our area is in desperate need of high-tech, highly skilled jobs, so I welcome proposals by Vodafone today to attract and retain more graduates to live and work across the region.

“Historically, we have been over-reliant on too few industries, and statistics show how important diversification is to our economy. Our existing cluster of high-tech companies have already established a fantastic reputation, as well as a pipeline of skills in partnership with Teesside University and local colleges, however in order to compete on the global stage we need to go further. That starts with directly addressing our skills shortage so that we can develop home-grown talent and prevent a brain drain to London and the South East.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands said: “Every day, the offer of the West Midlands for graduates improves, not least as a result of the booming digital sector – the largest outside the capital by some margin – and the thriving start-up scene. Connectivity is constantly improving with HS2 supercharging our transport revolution. But we also need to undergo a similar revolution in terms of digital infrastructure and the support we give to digital start-ups, many of which spin-out from our world-class universities.

“I am excited about the potential for this but recognise everybody has a part to play in creating the digital conditions where our region can achieve full potential.”


For more on ‘Brain Gain’, including a video overview featuring Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery, visit: 

Notes to editors

[i] Analysing the most recent data from the Higher Education Statistical Agency, the report found that:

  • Over 1 in 5 of those graduates (just over 30,000) end up working in London
  • London and the North West are the regions least affected by the exodus of graduates into employment elsewhere
  • The East of England and the South East lose over half of their graduates to jobs outside the regions six months after these graduates have finished university.

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