Wera Hobhouse MP meets Bath’s technology leaders discussion of issues

27th September 2018

Wera Hobhouse MP met with fifteen of Bath’s technology leaders for breakfast this morning at the office of local tech firm Rocketmakers. Over croissants and coffee, Bath’s local MP had the chance to learn directly from the sector what issues were most important to them.

One of the first issues raised was the difficulties tech startups have finding appropriate office space. Host Richard Godfrey, CEO of Rocketmakers, explained how his own company nearly relocated to Bristol when considering their recent move.

“We moved to our office on Manvers Street three months ago but before this, we really struggled to find the right place in Bath,” he said. “We really wanted to stay in Bath, but we thought we were going to have to move to Bristol to find somewhere that fit our needs. The city badly needs more options.”

TechSPARK MD Ben Shorrock said he knew of ten startups that wanted to open an office in Bath, but ended up moving to Bristol because they were unable to secure a lease.

Other concerns voiced included government-funded Tech Nation’s recent decision to stop describing the regional tech hub as “Bristol and Bath,” instead simply using “Bristol.” While acknowledging Bristol’s larger size means it will always overshadow Bath to some degree, Bath still maintains many advantages. One tech CEO said his Bristol-based staff had asked him to keep the company where it is because it was easier for them to make a 12-minute train journey to Bath Spa than to travel across Bristol.

The need to improve tech training in the area was something everyone agreed was an important issue. Many leaders voiced the need for better apprenticeship schemes that were more appropriate for the technology sector.

Rosie Bennet, who heads up the Bath Innovation Centre at the University of Bath, said, “Apprenticeships can be tailored more to the tech industry. Currently, they are not fit for purpose for early-stage tech firms to provide them.”

In a related issue, one business owner referred to the difficulty of hiring some of the many talented non-UK citizens being trained for technology work at the city’s two local universities. The uncertainty of future immigration policy being driven by Brexit was making it harder for local businesses to expand.

Towards the end of the gathering, conversation turned to Brexit, and how the assembled business leaders can have their impact on the direction of the country. Hobhouse strongly encouraged everyone present to speak up, saying that up till now the tech sector has been relatively quiet.

Reaction to the event from those attending was very positive. Hobhouse suggested the event become a regular fixture for Bath’s tech leaders and said she would attend future events if her Parliamentary schedule allowed.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with leaders from Bath’s tech sector this morning, and hearing directly from them how I can support them is very valuable,” Hobhouse explained.

“Bath has a thriving creative and technology hub, but it has the potential to grow much more. I’ve encouraged the leaders I’ve met with this morning to organise and I hope to start meeting with them regularly.”

Richard Godfrey from Rocketmakers agreed. “One thing was clear from our discussions with Wera: telling MPs about our concerns is helpful, but if we can organise as a tech community and present thoughtful, detailed proposals we can have much more impact. I think there was definitely interest from everyone at today’s breakfast at pursuing this.”