London’s next mayor will need to put technology at the heart of his or her leadership if the city is going to maintain its blossoming tech sector and have a presence on the global stage.
Tech London Advocates, TechUK and the Centre for London released the London’s Digital Future: The Mayoral Tech Manifesto 2016 last month, which urged the next London mayor to make sure that the capital has digital technology and innovation at its forefront.
The manifesto calls for the next mayor to ensure that the rollout of superfast broadband covers ‘notspots’ in some areas of the city, improve the provision of digital skills in schools, communities and business, and boost visa allocation to attract people with digital skills from beyond the European Union (EU).
Four out of the five mayoral candidates from the major parties seemed to agree with the manifesto during a debate hosted at east London’s Here East complex.
V3 attended the debate and noted that, while the candidates share broadly similar approaches to addressing London and the technology sector, there were some differences.
Liberal Democrats: Caroline Pidgeon
Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Caroline Pidgeon was the first to speak in the debate, and said that remaining in the EU is vital to London’s technology sector.
“The EU guarantees the steady stream of businesses that want to be located in London,” she said, noting how the free movement between EU nations can help to give the city the digital skills it needs.
“I want to see a London that is open and international so that it can attract the skills and talent our technology sector needs," she said.
"And I will be a mayor that fosters the new businesses, startups and entrepreneurs, and fights to keep London as a great European and international city.”
Pidgeon went on to explain how she would look at removing visa restrictions that prevent people with digital skills in non-EU countries entering the UK.
Pidgeon also said that she would make more use of open data, encourage diversity in the technology sector, and ensure that people are equipped with digital skills, particularly at school level, through the devolution of skills funding from central government to London.
Conservatives: Zac Goldsmith
Tory MP for Kingston and Richmond Zac Goldsmith supported much of the tech manifesto, particularly championing broadband as a “fourth utility”.
He also supported the manifesto’s request for the next mayor to appoint a chief data officer for London to make public data open and deliver better public services in partnership with technology companies.
Goldsmith differed from other candidates in using technology to fight terrorism with the help of the technology industry, implying that the controversial Snoopers' Charter might not be the best way for the government to do so. He would also see that the Metropolitan Police is equipped with the latest technology to aid crime fighting.
“I want the Met to be a 21st century force where iPads replace notepads, where body-worn cameras become the norm and where the public can report, map and monitor crime with a few swipes of a smartphone,” he said.
Labour: Sadiq Khan
Labour MP for Tooting Sadiq Khan threw his support behind all the recommendations in the tech manifesto, particularly the need for a chief data officer and the combination of better broadband coverage and better digital inclusion so that all Londoners can benefit from infrastructure improvements.
Khan stood out from his rivals, however, with a promise to look closely at how the business side of London’s technology industry can be boosted.
“I’ll establish a review working [with the technology sector] to look into what we need to make London number one for digital. I don’t want tech held back. I want us to take over New York and eventually Silicon Valley,” he said.
UKIP: Peter Whittle
UKIP’s Peter Whittle echoed his support for the majority of the recommendations laid out in the tech manifesto, but was in staunch opposition to the UK remaining in the EU as he believes that it is not beneficial to the city’s technology sector.
“Business and the tech business would be better off outside the EU. As the only candidate here who, at least publically, believes Britain should withdraw from the EU, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise quite how British businesses, in particular small and medium-sized businesses, are hampered and strangled by the weight of regulation and directives from Brussels,” he said.
Whittle also challenged the tech manifesto’s call for the London mayor to be involved in technology-oriented trade missions when trade directives are dictated by the EU.
Green Party: Sian Berry
Green candidate Sian Berry also supported the appointment of a chief data officer to drive broadband rollouts and make London a city driven by open data.
She suggested that digital inclusion could be boosted by making broadband access free for pensioners, as with TV licences.
Berry stood apart from the other candidates by calling for easier funding access for startups in London and the UK.
“I do think it’s important that we don’t just rely on American companies to come in and finance our growing sector. We need to focus on growing our own,” she said.
The candidates, with the exception of UKIP's, were effectively singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to the tech sector and making the capital more digital.
So the next London mayor is likely to be elected based on other policies less pertinent to the technology sector.
London’s Tech City is in rude health and a growing number of companies base their European headquarters in the city, but there are suggestions that focusing on the tech industry in the capital hampers growth in the rest of the UK.
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