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The funding will inform how the UK can address and rebalance these regional inequalities.

Facebook has awarded funding to a team of academics from the City-Region Economic Development Institute (City-REDI) at the University of Birmingham, the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, and the Alan Turing Institute, to undertake data-driven research focusing on how the ongoing digital revolution affects regional economic growth and the industrial landscape, and which businesses and places reap higher benefits from digitalisation in the UK.

Digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things, enable innovation and promote economic development, creating new opportunities for industry sectors and regions. However, these technologies can also lead to significant socio-economic and geographical divides, with many areas unable to access the benefits and opportunities these technologies provide.

The research team, using data to uncover the extent and scope of the digital divide, will work extensively with .uk domain datasets taken from the Internet Archive, a publicly available digital library, preserving the public web. Complementing this data, micro-data from the Business Structure Database, a live register of firms registered for VAT and/or Pay As You Earn (PAYE) in the UK, and data from the UK Innovation Survey will be used to provide a comprehensive analysis of how the digital footprint varies across the UK, by sector and geography.

Lead-researcher, Professor Raquel Ortega-Argiles from the University of Birmingham, states, “The Digital Economy is now part of the fabric of people’s lives, and our reliance on it has only grown since the COVID-19 pandemic. This further highlights technology’s capacity to disrupt, either to support the levelling up agenda for regional economies, or to strengthen the divisive growth paths. This research will inform how the UK can address and rebalance these regional inequalities.”

The project will:

  • Quantify the potential regional advantages associated with early engagement in the digital world for industrial and regional growth;
  • Analyse the productivity gains linked to high-intensity digital environments for business performance; and
  • Evaluate what spillover effects the digital economy also provides to the UK.

The results will be presented to a broad audience through academic publications as well as business, public and government engagement at all levels. The results should provide a new dataset and analysis to support key policy decisions regarding future development of, and investment in, the UK’s digital economy, with a particular focus for the first time on specific regional needs to ensure a more balanced geographical distribution of productivity gains.

The full team for the research is as follows: Dr Emmanouil Tranos (Bristol and The Alan Turing Institute), Dr Levi Wolf (Bristol and The Alan Turing Institute), Dr Tasos Kitsos (City-REDI), and PhD Giulia Occhini (Bristol and The Alan Turing Institute)

For more information or interviews, please contact: Hasan Salim Patel, Communications Manager (Arts, Law and Social Sciences), on +44 (0) 121 415 8134 or contact the press office out of hours on +44 (0) 7789 921 165.