And the award for the UK’s most innovative town goes to…Luton

It may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking about technological leadership in the UK, but Luton has topped a new index which attempts to rank the country’s regions by innovation. 

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Funded by Innovate UK, and published by Data City with support from the Open Data Institute (ODI), the UK Tech Innovation Index classifies regions based on “business activity, influence, specialisms and the location of universities and other academic institutions”, as well as the number and concentration of innovation-led events and networking opportunities in a particular area.

It even comes with an online map that lets you explore these factors in more detail. The top 10 overall “clusters” across all business sectors studied are shown in the table below, including the percentage of activity in the UK as a whole. Beneath the table is more on the methodology. 

Top 10 most innovative towns and cities

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Rank

Cluster

Region(s)

Percentage

1

London, Luton

Greater London, East

21.5%

2

Birmingham, Coventry

West Midlands

7.3%

3

Manchester, Stoke, Burnley

North West, West Midlands

6.4%

4

Reading, Aldershot, Slough

South East

5.0%

5

Bristol, Cardiff, Newport

South West, Wales

5.0%

6

Oxford, Northampton, Milton Keynes

South East

4.7%

7

Leicester, Nottingham

East Midlands

4.7%

8

Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Wakefield

Yorkshire and the Humber

4.7%

9

Romford, Dartford

Greater London, South East

4.0%

10

Edinburgh, Dundee

Scotland

3.9%

The project and index forms part of the ODI’s innovation programme, a three-year, £6 million programme to boost the UK’s data analytics capabilities, funded by Innovate UK.

 Last year’s inaugural index ranked 36 UK cities by their “innovation performance and potential in niches of technology”, particularly the rise of AI and machine learning, and was based on local and national data on businesses in each region, the number and types of events that were being held, and scientific publication records.  

For the latest report, called UK Tech Innovation Index 2.0, ODI used machine learning to capture and analyse millions of data points to look at sector-specific groups, and events, and claims to reveal “the true picture of innovation in the UK today.” In particular, it focuses on five sectors that feature prominently in the Government’s Industrial Strategy – AI and Data, Clean Growth, Smart Cities and Mobility, Ageing Society, and Advanced Manufacturing.

As you’d expect, Greater London came top in the overall score, given the saturation of startups, businesses and companies in the capital, and in all the categories. Yet, other clusters were much more evenly spread across the UK. Below we’ve listed each sector and where clusters of innovative companies are most prominent.

Advanced Manufacturing

Outside of London, advanced manufacturing formed reasonably small clusters centred on specific cities. Particularly strong clusters emerged around Manchester in the North West, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby in the East Midlands and a tight cluster in the western part of Yorkshire and the Humber.

Rank

Cluster

Region

Percentage

1

London

Greater London

26.7%

2

Manchester, Preston, Wigan, Warrington, Blackburn, Burnley

North West

7.1%

3

Leicester, Nottingham, Derby

East Midlands

5.4%

4

Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Wakefield

Yorkshire and the Humber

4.9%

5

Cambridge

East

4.8%

6

Edinburgh, Dundee

Scotland

4.4%

7

Bristol

South West

4.2%

8

Birmingham

West Midlands

4.2%

9

Glasgow

Scotland

3.6%

10

Coventry

West Midlands

3.0%

Smart Cities and Mobility

Birmingham and Coventry are at the heart of a strong Smart Cities and Mobility cluster, seen in the table below. Other areas which rank highly are the South East, with two large clusters across Brighton, Aldershot, Worthing, Crawley and Slough, and another in Oxford, Southampton, Portsmouth and Reading. Four of the top ten clusters also cross regional boundaries.

Rank

Cluster

Region

Percentage

1

London

Greater London

20.9%

2

Birmingham, Coventry

West Midlands

12.2%

3

Brighton, Aldershot, Worthing, Crawley, Slough

South East

6.9%

4

Oxford, Southampton, Portsmouth, Reading

South East

6.4%

5

Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Barnsley, York, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Doncaster

Yorkshire and the Humber

5.8%

6

Manchester, Stoke, Warrington, Burnley, Telford

North West, West Midlands

5.8%

7

Leicester, Nottingham, Hull, Derby, Mansfield

East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber

5.3%

8

Luton, Northampton, Milton Keynes

East, East Midlands, South East

5.3%

9

Liverpool, Birkenhead, Preston, Wigan, Blackpool

North West

4.6%

10

Bristol, Cardiff, Newport

South West, Wales

4.6%

Ageing Society

Rank

Cluster

Region

Percentage

1

London, Slough

Greater London, South East

31.2%

2

Birmingham

West Midlands

6.2%

3

Leicester, Nottingham, Derby

East Midlands

5.3%

4

Manchester

North West

5.0%

5

Edinburgh

Scotland

4.6%

6

Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough

North East

4.5%

7

Reading, Oxford

South East

3.7%

8

Liverpool, Birkenhead, Preston, Wigan, Warrington

North West

3.6%

9

Cambridge

East

3.6%

10

Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Wakefield

Yorkshire and the Humber

3.4%

Clean Growth

Clean Growth is a key strength in Birmingham, which ranks second in the Clean Growth sector. 

Rank

Cluster

Region

Percentage

1

London

Greater London

24.2%

2

Birmingham, Coventry

West Midlands

6.4%

3

Leicester, Nottingham, Derby

East Midlands

5.9%

4

Manchester, Burnley

North West

5.4%

5

Aldershot, Slough

South East

4.4%

6

Cambridge, Peterborough

East

3.6%

7

Liverpool, Birkenhead, Wigan, Warrington

North West

3.4%

8

Edinburgh

Scotland

3.3%

9

Oxford

South East

3.1%

10

Glasgow

Scotland

2.8%

AI and Data

Rank

Cluster

Region

Percentage

1

London

Greater London

27.1%

2

Brighton, Aldershot, Worthing, Crawley, Slough

South East

6.9%

3

Manchester, Burnley

North West

6.1%

4

Birmingham, Coventry

West Midlands

5.3%

5

Leicester, Nottingham, Derby

East Midlands

4.2%

6

Oxford, Swindon, Reading

South East, South West

4.0%

7

Bristol, Gloucester

South West

3.7%

8

Glasgow

Scotland

3.3%

9

Luton, Northampton, Milton Keynes

East, South East, East Midlands

3.2%

10

Edinburgh

Scotland

3.0%

The report and map will be updated monthly as new data is collected and analysed. More about the methodology can be found here

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