Two senior government ministers visited Bristol this week to talk about technology. Esther McVey, Minister of State for  Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, met regional businesses and talk about their skills needs, while the Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James, (above left) was finding out more about the region’s strengths in digital and 5G technology.

“The West of England is well placed to become a smart region – we are home to the largest cluster of digital expertise outside London, and our businesses and universities are at the forefront of innovation in next generation networks including 5G,” said Tim Bowles, mayor of the Est of England Compbinaed Authority that covers Bristol, Bath and South Gloucestershire.

“We’re now working with our constituent councils and the University of Bristol on a bid to the [government’s] Urban Connected Communities fund,” he said. “Our vibrant economy, creative culture, high tech productivity and accessible geography make us the ideal location to be the UK’s 5G demonstrator.”

“I’ve been able to see first-hand how the University of Bristol, working with the West of England Combined Authority, is playing an important role in research and development that will unlock the benefits of 5G not just for the West of England but across our economy and wider society,” said Margot James during her vist, which included entrepreneurs at the EngineShed business accelerator at Temple Meads.

“The minister is warmly welcomed to the Bristol & Bath digital tech cluster to see first-hand what we are doing and achieving to progress our region’s inclusive economic growth strategy. It’s well known to us what a hotbed of innovation, technical progression and talent we have,” said Nick Sturge, director of the EngineShed. He hosted a tech roundtable with companies such as YellowDog, GapSquare, DigiLocal, Oracle, One Big Circle, TechSPARK, A2Z and Interactive Scientific for the minister, who also met with Boomsatsuma, a social enterprise with an alternative approach to training young people from diverse and challenging backgrounds.

The minister also saw the 5G network at the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab that is driving the 5G agenda both locally and nationally as one of three UK sites which delivered the world’s first end-to-end 5G system trials.

Meanwhile Secretary of State Esther McVey met with the Chairman of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, Professor Steve West, and chief executive of the West of England Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership, Patricia Greer.

“We are an economically successful region where businesses start, grow and thrive in high numbers – but there are still significant skills gaps in some areas, and business must work with government, at regional and national level, to address these,” said Prof West. The digital skills gap is a key

The Secretary of State was also updated on the new Future Bright project, which aims to boost skills and opportunities for up to 3,000 adults. This £4m project is being funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and run by the West of England Combined Authority, working with Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

The region was named as the most productive digital cluster in the UK in the recent TechNation report.