Facebook awards funding to academic partnership to research the impact of the digital economy on regional inequalities in the UK

Digital EconomyFacebook 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 will use novel data sources such the Internet Archive and the UK Web Archive to map the evolution of the .uk domain and the underpinning digital divides by region and time. We will complement this data with 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 the UK Innovation Survey 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.”

Dr Emmanouil Tranos from the University of Bristol and The Alan Turing Institute, adds, “This academic partnership between the Universities of Birmingham and Bristol, alongside The Alan Turing Institute, strengthens our capabilities to deliver this exciting data-driven research, in order to better understand digital divides in the UK and, ultimately, to support better informed policy decision-making within the regional levelling up agenda”.

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

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.

Further information on the Facebook award programme

Project team: Professor Raquel Ortega-Argiles, University of Birmingham; Dr Emmanouil Tranos  University of Bristol and The Alan Turing Institute; Dr Levi Wolf University of Bristol and The Alan Turing Institute; Dr Tasos Kitsos, City-REDI, and PhD Giulia Occhini University of Bristol and The Alan Turing Institute.