And the Leeds tech hub cash goes to … developers Bruntwood

futurelabs2It’s a funny old do, this “tech hub” thing in Leeds. Just when you think you know what it is and where it’s based, another one pops up and gets you confused again.

First I thought the tech hub was at Allied London’s vibrant waterside destination, Leeds Dock.

But I was wrong.

Then, in March 2015, I thought it was going to be at the old police station at Brotherton House. That was only because George Osborne had just announced that not-for-profit Future Labs was being given £3.7m by central government to turn the building into a six-floor entrepreneurial tech hub.

Wrong again.

bruntwood

Platform

This morning it turns out that the city’s new tech hub is going to be housed at John Poulson’s old City House above the station, a building that’s been substantially revamped and given the more vibrant name of Platform.

An announcement today says that developers Bruntwood (total assets approaching £1bn) are to get £2m from the council as capital to develop the hub, which will take up 28% of the building’s total floorspace of 117,000 sq ft.

No mention of Future Labs. No mention of Brotherton House, which was still languishing in the doldrums last time I looked.

Did Osborne get it wrong? 

councilSomething has obviously gone on, but what?

My guess is that back in 2015 the council were miffed with Osborne’s announcement (they greeted it with stony silence as far as I remember). Who was he to say where the Leeds Tech Hub should go, and who should run it?

Somehow, I’m guessing, the council got the £3.7m government cash (that was destined for Future Labs) turned over to it so it could decide.

So they set up a fund with the money, invited bids and, hey presto, today’s lucky winner of the biggest share – decided by a panel of experts and endorsed by the council’s Director of City Development – is Bruntwood (total assets approaching £1bn).

Did Future Labs bid? They must have done.

Nothing wrong with serious real estate players jumping on the tech bandwagon. It’s business.

And you can sort of get the council’s point when it insists that, as there’s no revenue funding attached, “the sustainability of projects without additional funding was the highest weighted criterion in the scoring process”.

But … but …

It’s just that if I were a member of the Leeds tech community I think I’d be going “whaaaat?!”

Reaction so far has been muted (there’s still £1m of the fund that hasn’t been allocated, so keep your heads down, guys).

tech hub

futurelabs

My guess is that there’s more to all of this than meets the eye.

Anyone in the Leeds tech community out there? What do you think?

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4 Responses to And the Leeds tech hub cash goes to … developers Bruntwood

  1. Futurelabs submitted a tender in the spirit of the original announcement for a hub to support the local tech community. We have had no official feedback on this tender, but we have been informed that the Futurelabs proposal is still being considered.
    Futurelabs @ 1 Eastgate opened in July 2016 and hosts a thriving and successful tech community.

  2. Richard says:

    As I understood it the money had to be used for capital expenditure, so it came as no surprise to me that it would be awarded to a property developer.

    We have all seen loads of tech centres, hubs, support programmes and accelerators that have to keep going back to public sector for more and more funding, so I suspect the council wanted to make sure that the chosen solutions were able to become self-sustaining.

    From doing a bit of research, I see Bruntwood manage other similar solutions through MSP and have a track record delivering commercially viable innovation centres.

    Again, talking to a bunch of people, I believe that they will be working with partners who have substantial experience delivering wrap-around services to help build, grow and scale businesses.

    • Yes, the money was always only for capital spending, so there’s a need to have some guarantee of revenue to support the hub’s activities. Property developers are clearly well placed – the Manchester cash didn’t go to the original bidders announced by Osborne either, but to Bruntwood and Allied London.

      I’m presuming that the original Future Labs bid to central government for the £3.7m (and the subsequent re-application to the council’s fund) had that element covered, though, through private sector funding or other sources.

      I suppose that if the space is cheap enough and the facilities and support good enough, then budding tech entrepreneurs will sign up to what’s been announced. We’ll see.

      The report issued by the council is pretty sketchy about what we’re going to get from some of the other supported tech hub projects. Apart from having “Leeds2023” written all over them, it’s unclear what they’re being paid to do.

      What I don’t quite understand in all of this is: if tech hubs or innovation centres are as commercially viable as you suggest above, why is the kitting out of buildings to house them being paid for with public money?

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