Gavin Poole is CEO of Here East and a Tech London Advocate. In this article, he explores why electing a tech-friendly Mayor of London is crucial to the future success of the city.
This mayoral election is unprecedented. For the first time mayoral candidates have to really demonstrate why the development of London as a digital city, with a world-leading technology sector, is so important to its future and international success.
London’s digital development has made huge strides in the past eight years with Boris Johnson as Mayor, largely thanks to the growth of Tech City and other digital hubs. London is now home to a thriving population of tech entrepreneurs and innovators.
What’s more, the application of digital innovation and disruptive technology is no longer reserved for the tech sector alone; innovative and disruptive practices are now being incorporated throughout a vast range of industries – old and new – including fashion, architecture, engineering, manufacturing and human health.
The challenge and opportunity for the new Mayor is to harness the all-encompassing power of digital innovation and to turn London from a digitally-friendly capital, to a world-leading city famous for its digital power.
Today the mayoral candidates, for the first time in London’s history, will present their vision for a digital London at DebateTech. The hustings is being held in the newly opened, 1,000 capacity auditorium at Here East, the creative and digital campus being developed on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
DebateTech was set up by Tech London Advocates in partnership with techUK and Centre for London. It will provide candidates – frontrunners Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) and Sadiq Khan (Labour), as well at Sian Berry (Green), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats ) and Peter Whittle (UKIP) – the opportunity to respond to London’s Digital Future: The Mayoral Tech Manifesto 2016.
Tech London Advocates – a group of expert individuals from the tech sector and broader community – wrote this Manifesto with a view to creating a blueprint for unlocking London’s potential as a world-class hub for tech and digital businesses.
The Manifesto makes a number of asks of the prospective Mayor, including calls for a London-wide audit of regulation to prepare for the impact of technology innovation, a digital inclusion strategy that puts digital opportunities in the hands of all Londoners and improved access to broadband and world-class cyber security.
It also highlights the need for a comprehensive strategy for digital skills to rival New York’s Tech Talent Pipeline and it urges the new Mayor to appoint a chief digital officer for London, responsible for co-ordinating, developing and delivering a world-beating digital strategy for the city.
Demand for digital
At Here East we particularity recognise the huge demand for digital-friendly infrastructure in London, and our vision grew from this demand. Crucially, the Manifesto calls for more infrastructure, asking the new Mayor to shore up the supply of commercial space and to implement a consistent planning permission regime across London
As London continues its growth as a world-class digital sector, it will need to help companies find the space to locate and expand. With such a thriving start-up community, there is rightly now a focus on how these companies can be supported to scale. One of the big hurdles tech scale-ups face is the frequent inflexibility of the property market, which is geared more to the reliable needs of large companies than the often unpredictable requirements of fast-growing companies.
Advancing our position will involve a combination of solutions. Radical mixed-use work environments, such as we are building at Here East, have a big role to play in incubating scale-ups and giving them access to a community of likeminded peers, and larger companies.
If we want London to remain at the forefront of global innovation, the new Mayor must address the barriers to growth. We need to reduce the barriers to skilled digital talent from within and outside the UK, improve greater access to investment, and crucially we need to enable collaboration between large and small companies, and build the infrastructure and space for collaboration and growth to take place. Electing a “digital Mayor” is vital to reaching these goals.