Two more top team quit Tech North

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Two more of the senior team at Tech North (TN), the government-backed body set up to build the northern English tech economy, are leaving the organisation as fallout continues from a dispute with parent agency Tech City UK (TCUK) over future budget and autonomy. Julian Blake reports.

tech north logoCommunity engagement and partnerships manager Paul Lancaster and head of skills and talent Coral Grainger are to leave Tech North after turning down the offer of new contracts from April.

Their effective resignations follow the shock departure last month of TN head Claire Braithwaite after less than a year in post.

Last week, Braithwaite confirmed that she was to become tech advisor to the Manchester Growth Company, working to transform the Greater Manchester economy.

TechCityinsider understands that public recruitment will see a replacement TN head in post from late April or May, with TN set to announce the internal appointment of a new deputy head role soon. In a statement to TechCityinsider today, however, TCUK said “Tech North has not appointed a deputy head”.

Braithwaite has not made any public statement on her reasons for leaving Tech North, though it is known that a post-spending review dispute over budget and autonomy forced her hand, after she concluded that she was unable to support a new TCUK delivery plan that placed TN’s budget and programme under the control of TCUK’s London HQ.

Braithwaite’s resignation had followed the departure of Hassle founder Alex Depledge from Tech North’s advisory board, in her protest at the new delivery plan.

Last month, following the appointment of TN executive chair Herb Kim as caretaker head, the dispute between the two bodies looked to have eased, with sources describing a “breakthrough” following assurances that TN’s £2m budget over two years would be ring-fenced for the north.

However, the latest departures offer evidence of continuing unhappiness within TN at the new delivery plan. That plan, which is now understood to have been finalised, will see TN’s budget and programme controlled by London from April.

Voices from the north of England tech scene, including Dotforge founder Emma Cheshire and UKFast owner Laurence Jones, have been highly critical of the move.

Coralgrainger260Neither Lancaster nor Grainger (pictured) were available for public statements.

Confirming the pair’s departures to TechCityinsider, TCUK said: “Coral and Paul have recently informed us that they will not be renewing their current contracts. Coral is leaving at the end of February and plans to return to her company, which connects businesses with talent and educators. Paul is leaving at the end of March is looking to set up his own business focused on the North East. Both have made huge contributions to the early successes of Tech North and we wish them well for the future.”

Paul LancasterOn the delivery plan, the statement said: “We intend on making the delivery plan public, but only once it has gone through the formal government approval process. This is likely to be towards the new financial year. Our strategy to accelerate digital growth in the North and across the country remains unchanged for 2016-2017.”

The developments have raised doubts about the government’s commitment to its ‘northern powerhouse’ initiative to drive economic growth in the English north, with Tech North’s role in attracting inward investment critical to that initiative.

Chancellor George Osborne’s November public spending review imposed £37bn of cuts, and saw non-protected government departments including TCUK sponsor DCMS forced to find significant savings.

According to a confidential email seen by TechCityinsider, TCUK bosses were working up a plan to incorporate Tech North’s budget into the single TCUK budget and delivery plan. That plan is at the root of unhappiness from tech figures inside and beyond Tech North.

Moving forward, TCUK is now being asked to pursue a commercialisation strategy to offset budget cutbacks.

TCUK would not confirm its future funding position beyond the £2.2m for the current financial year ending 31 March 2016.

News of the latest departures comes in the wake of the publication last week of Tech Nation 2016, which reported 283,000 northern-based digital jobs, adding £9.9bn to the UK economy.