4 Things the next Mayor must do to help make London the technology capital of Europe
As London grows in size we must support the development of industries that are growing too. London’s technology sector is one such area, comprised of both entrepreneurial start-ups and well-known global businesses that have chosen to base themselves here. But despite this there are still major infrastructure problems and considerable difficulties for the tech sector developing in London.
Here are 4 things the next Mayor could do to address this:
1. Improve access to basic technology and infrastructure
There are still parts of the capital (including in central London) where high speed broadband is not yet available to businesses or residents. This is a major road block for tech companies wishing to expand or set up shop here. Ofcom is now conducting a Strategic Review of Digital Communications to investigate this. The next Mayor should be banging down the door of telecoms companies to demand that action be taken against BT in particular, requiring it to provide superfast broadband to all parts of London that require it.
The next Mayor should also support co-working spaces such as Google Campus and Impact Hub and incentivise businesses that have excess office space to offer it up to new start-ups at an affordable rent. This would both encourage collaboration and networking within the tech sector and give new start-ups a helping hand by providing the initial office space they need to develop their business.
2. Set up formal links with other tech hubs like Silicon Valley
There’s lots that we can learn from the development of other international tech hubs too.
The next Mayor of London should establish formal links and engagement programmes with other international Mayors of successful tech hub cities, like in San Francisco, to facilitate the exchange of ideas and people and to undertake joint policy initiatives on how best to support technology companies. This would both encourage Silicon Valley based companies to choose London as their European base and help our own home-grown start-ups establish invaluable contacts and know-how over there.
3. Establish a Mayoral technology investment fund
Working with Tech City, the next Mayor of London should set up a Mayoral technology investment fund to help London’s emerging tech businesses by providing the investment they need to expand or develop. With a £10million initial budget, which could be paid for through the proceeds of a newly introduced hotel occupancy tax for example, the fund could make investments of between £10,000 and £100,000 to businesses which can demonstrate a sustainable business model. These wouldn’t be grants or ‘prizes’ awarded by way of gimmicks and publicity stunts, but real investments provided in return for an equity stake in those businesses, with incentives included both to employ and train staff, and also to remain located within London.
4. Appoint a Deputy Mayor for Technology & Innovation
These initiatives will require a dedicated, full-time advocate so the next Mayor should appoint a Deputy Mayor for Technology and Innovation to crusade for London to be the technology capital of Europe. This Deputy Mayor role is not a job for a political party apparatchik or a civil servant, but for someone of real credibility and experience who understands the tech industry and how to encourage it to innovate, invest and expand. They should be supported by a panel of industry leaders, as the Technology Advisory Council does in San Francisco.
Taken together, these 4 ideas provide a clear roadmap for how we can move London’s technology industry forward, for the benefit of the whole of the capital’s economy. It’s vital that the next Mayor makes this a priority on day one or else risk losing forever the chance to establish London as the technology capital of Europe.
Gareth Thomas is the Member of Parliament for Harrow West, Chair of the Co-op Party and is a Prospective Labour Candidate for London Mayor