SAS AI Cities Index 2023: which parts of the UK are most AI-ready? 

By Glyn Townsend, Senior Director, Education Services – SAS EMEA

We’re in the golden time of the information age, as many business leaders across the UK realise the potential of artificial intelligence for transforming industries such as healthcare, education, finance and manufacturing. 

With AI likely to contribute billions of pounds to the UK’s GDP and increase it by 7 per cent over a decade, organisations across the UK need to establish their own approach to utilising the technology to grow the country’s economy.

In healthcare, artificial intelligence can speed up diagnoses, drug discovery, and even help improve patient flow through hospitals. For manual processing tasks, AI and cloud analytics can be used to quickly digest, decipher and analyse the data set - reducing the need for office workers to spend hours manually sorting through data.

This year the UK government published a whitepaper - A pro-innovation approach to AI regulation – which outlines its approach and commitment to “unleashing AI’s potential across the economy”.

The government is planning its ‘Levelling Up’ scheme to “spread opportunity and prosperity” across all parts of the UK. As a result, all regions and local authorities need investment and training opportunities if the government is to realise its plans.

What’s the current status of AI across the UK?

We’ve created the SAS AI Cities 2023 Index, which builds on a similar ranking exercise we did last year to establish which cities and London boroughs are leading the way in the UK in terms of being the most AI-ready, and which need more support.

SAS looked at seven key indicators, including:

  • The value of InnovateUK projects in each area between 2022 and 2025.
  • The number of AI companies in the city.
  • The number of AI-related jobs currently advertised.
  • The number of MeetUp AI-related events in each city.
  • The average life satisfaction of residents in each city.
  • The number of university courses which feature AI as part of the module.
  • The number of international flights within a 90-minute drive of the city, per day.

SAS gave every city and London borough an index score for each separate data point, with equal weighting, to calculate an overall index score out of 700.

The most AI-ready cities and London boroughs

Edinburgh came top in the index as the most AI-ready city. It’s the universities that helped Scotland’s capital city to thrive, as it’s home to the highest number of courses that feature an AI element.

Universities in Edinburgh are making waves in AI innovation. InnovateUK has awarded multiple grants worth millions of pounds to University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Napier, alongside other organisations such as NHS Lothian.

The University of Edinburgh also recently released research that could be “transformational” in improving heart attack diagnosis, using an algorithm developed from AI.

Edinburgh beat Cambridge to the post - which has dropped from first place in the SAS AI Cities Index in 2022, to second. Cambridge had the highest number of AI-related job roles available within its vicinity.

Oxford, also known for its prestigious university, was third in our index, also benefiting from its proximity to UK airports for easy travel to other destinations.

Birmingham, in fourth, is also a magnet for the UK’s talent pool, with 83 AI-related companies registered there and a high volume of career opportunities for AI experts and software developers.

Outside of London, Manchester fared the best for companies registered in the city, helping it to place sixth in the rankings.

Though outside of the top 10, there were other cities that have high levels of investment from InnovateUK, including Coventry, Glasgow and Derby which all had investments granted of over £50 million.

Which cities have climbed up the rankings?

Newry, Leicester, Inverness and Norwich have all climbed more than 30 places since the index was published last year, in a sign that the cities have implemented a number of actions to overhaul their AI-ready efforts.

  1. Newry - from position 74 to 25 (a jump of 49)
  2. Leicester - from position 50 to 13 (a jump of 37)
  3. Inverness - from position 67 to 35 (a jump of 32)
  4. Norwich - from position 49 to 18 (a jump of 31)
  5. Wells - from position 65 to 36 (a jump of 29)
  6. Lichfield - from position 72 to 44 (a jump of 28)
  7. St Asaph - from position 60 to 34 (a jump of 26)
  8. Derry - from position 64 to 39 (a jump of 25)
  9. Lancaster - from position 43 to 32 (a jump of 21)
  10. Lisburn - from position 71 to 51 (a jump of 20)

Why is this research important?

Streaming services use AI to suggest what we should watch next, smartphones use it to help us unlock our phones with our faces, and AI is used by banks to help detect fraud. These are just a few of the everyday uses of AI that we’re familiar with.

Just this year, the Prime Minister announced £100 million in funding for the UK to accelerate its capability in safe AI.

SAS data shows a low number of AI-based companies in smaller cities, and few to zero universities based in these cities with AI components to their courses, such as Ely, Newry and St Albans.

The least AI-ready cities

  1. Chichester
  2. Bangor
  3. Dundee
  4. Salford
  5. Hull
  6. Carlisle
  7. Doncaster
  8. Wakefield
  9. Wrexham
  10. Winchester

It’s likely that tech literacy will become an essential part of every role, and so there are enormous opportunities for education institutions to shape their degrees and courses to help students.

Those in the areas less AI-ready need to be equipped with the skills to adapt to new tools and technologies. It’s not just AI-specific roles, either. More and more careers require digital literacy, and so educators need to be well-versed in teaching people how to incorporate data analytics, cloud analytics and other forms of software solutions into their career.

The UK has a goal to become a science and technology superpower by 2030. For this to become a reality, all cities - not just those that are the largest or most populated - need to be able to build, test and implement AI technologies across all walks of life. They need to create an ecosystem between institutions, research and commercial applications to develop and deploy the future technology.

With recent news that UK net migration is at an all-time high, it is imperative that we work with urgency to ensure our future workforce is equipped with the skills to succeed in the new landscape of technology, to ensure the UK can retain its position as a leader in the field. Beyond just the digital and data literacy we are lacking, we need to ensure there is investment in regional AI Centres of Excellence and Incubation Hubs for new and emerging technology to fuel the future economy. 

The education sector has moved with urgency to ‘embrace’ the ESG agenda, with many curriculums now including Environmental, Social and Governance modules as mandatory - but without the data literacy and fundamental skills to take this knowledge and apply it. 

The Council for Science and Technology recognises the skills shortfalls pointing out that “Government should keep under review the wide range of levers that incentivise investment and attract world class scientists, engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs to base themselves in the UK (funding, infrastructure, procurement, skills, standards, regulation, and taxation).”

Partnerships with more than 100 UK academic institutions mean SAS can support this connection, helping to link commercial applications with research projects and its customer-base, to help ensure the effectiveness of the future workforce, and applicability of new solutions to our economy.



SAS looked at seven key indicators, including:

  • The value of InnovateUK projects in each area between 2022 and 2025.
  • The number of AI companies in the city, according to LinkedIn.
  • The number of AI-related jobs currently advertised on LinkedIn.
  • The number of MeetUp AI-related events in each city.
  • The average life satisfaction of residents in each city, according to the ONS. This was included as a measure of how happy the residents are in each local authority, which is important for people considering moving there, or AI businesses launching there.
  • The number of university courses which feature artificial intelligence as part of the module.
  • The number of international flights within a 90-minute drive of the city, per day, to reflect the global opportunities for businesses and employees in each city.

Glyn Townsend
Senior Director, Education Services, SAS EMEA