Introduction and Policy Context
TechRevolution, an URBACT Transfer Network, provides an opportunity for 6 cities from across the EU to really get under the skin of a good practice developed and delivered in Barnsley UK which centres around 2 main pillars:
- Enterprising Barnsley – a successful business support programme;
- The Digital Media Centre (DMC) – a landmark hub for creative and digital business in the town centre
It enables these cities to come together to study each and every element of the practice in a safe and honest space, to consider their own local contexts and strategic priorities and then to adapt different aspects of what Barnsley has done within their local setting.
TechRevolution is all about sharing the knowledge, experience and (perhaps most importantly) lessons from Barnsley and learning from others so as to support next steps locally.
All the transfer partners are medium sized towns or cities, seeking to revolutionise their local economy through the development of tech and digital jobs and entrepreneurship. They all want (and need) to transform their economies from being heavily reliant on traditional industry to supporting the development of high value, knowledge-based jobs within the ‘next economy’. They all also have significant learning and experience of their own which will contribute to enhancing Barnsley’s existing work and developing it into a new Innovation Campus which, it is hoped, will move from conception to inception over the course of the 2-year transfer network.
It is hoped that over the next 2 years the 6 transfer cities will be able to really benefit from lessons learnt in Barnsley and revolutionise the way that they approach digital and tech job creation and entrepreneurship so as to grow more and better jobs for local citizens.
This transferability study:
- starts with a very short outline of the EU policy context within which the network will work
- introduces the good practice and transfer potential
- provides profiles of each partner
- sets out a proposed transfer methodology, outputs and communications and dissemination potential to help the network to maximise impact.
EU Policy Context
- Many of the challenges – and opportunities – to be tackled by TechRevolution are central to the Europe 2020 strategy (EU2020) which aims to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth and competitiveness. EU2020 and its flagship initiatives such as the Innovation Union and the European Digital Agenda heavily influence the way that EU resources, and particularly European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are spent through Operational Programmes. Until relatively recently, the focus of these programmes was exclusively regional or sectoral rather than urban.
- In May 2016 the Pact of Amsterdam started to change this by launching a new ‘multi-level working method promoting cooperation between Member States, cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders in order to stimulate growth, liveability and innovation in the cities of Europe and to identify and successfully tackle social challenges’.
- The EU Urban Agenda is delivered through a thematic Action Plans. TechRevolution is most closely linked to the Jobs and Skills in the Local Economy Partnership which highlights the importance of the ‘next economy’ being ‘about enabling the transition of cities and regions with a strong industrial base into a next economy’ based on knowledge, interconnection and digital platforms. It recognises a need for more hard and soft investment, includes ‘Business Locations’ as a sub priority, and stresses the importance of having spaces and places for start-ups and scale ups. It cites the role of the public sector as ‘bringing together the quadruple helix partners and developing a systematic approach’.
- This is also reflected in Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) which aim to bring together economic traditions with new growth opportunities. As set out in URBACT’s own publication ‘New Urban Economies’ (URBACT, 2015), ‘at the core of S3 strategies is a process called ‘entrepreneurial discovery’. The idea is that stakeholders in regions (companies, entrepreneurs, knowledge institutes, sub-national governments) interact to identify promising specialisations’. Perhaps inadvertently, the good practice which will be transferred through TechRevolution does precisely this albeit at a local level. This same publication also supports a multi stakeholder, bottom up approach: “Cities need to move towards more indigenous approaches and support new economies from the bottom up. They must be based on two principles: first, they must build on specific local assets, strengths and traditions, and link them with promising new specialisations and external business innovation networks and second, they must be developed through a partnership made up of different and diverse types of stakeholders”
There are also links with the Digital Transition Partnership of the EU Urban Agenda which aims to provide ‘improved public services to citizens, to support European Cities in exploiting the possibilities of digitalisation, and assist European businesses to develop new innovations and create new business opportunities for global markets’. The emphasis on the importance of digital skills being available for everybody is particularly striking, given the ongoing challenges in Barnsley (see below). It will be important for TechRevolution partners to link their learning with some of the emerging actions e.g. the Innovation and Dissemination Accelerator which aims to share knowledge, information and learning at city level and the proposed work around supporting ‘agile experimentation of emerging digital technologies’ which has close links to some of the IoT work which is now emerging locally in Barnsley. It may be that the Digital Transitions partnership can find some useful learning in the entrepreneurial approach adopted by Barnsley in the implementation of its good practice. This is highly relevant to the planned action around creating a business model approach for cities to help them use their budgets more effectively and generate new revenue sources.
As far as the EU Thematic Objectives are concerned, this project is most closely linked to Thematic Objective 3 – Enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs are key actors of the European economy, providing two out of three private sector jobs and more than half of the total value-added created by business. The EU’s ‘Annual Report on SMEs’ (2016/7) states: ‘SMEs form the backbone of the EU28 economy, in 2015 just under 23 million SMEs generated 3.9 Trillion Euros and employed 90 million people. They accounted for two thirds of EU28 employment and just less than three fifths of EU28 value added. The vast majority have less than 10 employees and account for almost 93% of all enterprises in the non-financial sector. SMEs experienced good growth in 2015 for the second year in a row. 3.8% in 2014 and 5.7% in 2015. The report found that in recent years young SMEs created jobs and the EU needs more young firms to create jobs. Public policies supporting more start up dynamism will go some way towards improving the environment for start-ups and strengthening the overall employment creation performance of SMEs’.
At an international level, the network has close links with the UN Habitat’s Sustainable Development Goal 9 ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’ and will support the New Urban Agenda’s aims of:
- Developing sustainable and resilient infrastructure with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all
- Promoting investments, innovations and entrepreneurship
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