Next London Mayor’s Tech Manifesto

A recent manifesto released by the Centre for London, TechUK and Tech London Advocates has called for the next Mayor of London to put technology right at the heart of their leadership!

The manifesto, ‘London’s Digital Future: The Mayoral Tech Manifesto 2016’ emphasises how if London is to continue its presence on the global stage then it has to maintain its growing tech sector.

Of particular note is the manifesto’s call for the next mayor to ensure that superfast broadband is rolled out across the city, taking into account the notable ‘notspots’. Other areas the manifesto draws attention to include the delivery of digital skills and knowledge in education, communities and business, and encouraging non-EU people with digital skills and knowledge to the UK by boosting visa allocations.

At a recent debating event hosted at east London’s Here East complex, candidates vying for the position of Mayor of London were given the chance to express their views on the manifesto:

Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly spoke first, stating that the growth and development of London’s tech sector relies a lot on not leaving the EU because the “EU guarantees the steady stream of businesses that want to be located in London”. She emphasised how important it was to continue allowing the free movement of citizens between EU nations to ensure London receives the digital skills it requires.

She emphasised how important it would be to look at removing visa restrictions that prevent non-EU people with digital skills from coming to the UK and how she would ensure a distinct focus is put on the use of open data and equipping people (especially school age) with digital skills. She also highlighted that she would encourage diversity in the technology sector. This would all be achieved through the “devolution of skills funding from central government to London.” 

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Kingston and Richmond appeared to agree with much of the tech manifesto, not only emphasising how important broadband was, calling it a “fourth utility” but also supporting the request put forward in the document that a chief data officer for London is appointed by the next mayor.

Goldsmith was the only candidate to imply that the contentious Investigatory Powers Bill, or ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ as it is now being called, might not be the best approach in using technology to combat terrorism. He also took a stand on how the Met Police should be equipped, stating that they should have all the latest technology to help them in their crime-fighting efforts. 

He stated: “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”.

Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for Tooting appeared to be on board with the manifesto in its entirety, especially the document’s request for a chief data officer, better broadband coverage and digital inclusion. He did, however, stand out from the other candidates in terms of how he would approach the boosting of the business side of London’s tech industry.

He stated: “I’ll establish a review working [with the technology sector] to look into what we need to make London number one for digital.” He added “I don’t want tech held back. I want us to take over New York and eventually Silicon Valley”.

Peter Whittle, UKIP’s candidate for the mayoral position also expressed his support at most of the document’s recommendations, however, he maintained his position on the UK leaving the EU because, he expressed, he does not think staying is beneficial to the capital’s tech sector.

He stated: “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”.

Finally, Sian Berry, the Green candidate also expressed her support for much of what was contained in the manifesto. In particular she noted the request for a chief data officer for London to be appointed, in order to ensure broadband is rolled out across London and to make sure the capital starts being driven by open data.

Berry emphasised the importance of digital inclusion, suggesting that it could even be increased by allowing pensioners free access to broadband, as they have with TV licenses. She was also the only candidate to make the call for London and UK startups to have easier access to funding, stating:  that she thinks 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”.

All of the candidates showed their willingness to accept the manifesto’s recommendations and all showed their desire to ensure London’s tech sector continues to flourish. All seem determined to make London increasingly digitally focussed, so apart from the exception of UKIP’s belief that the UK should leave the EU, there isn’t much separating them in terms of tech priorities.

London’s status as a tech hub continues to grow, especially as more and more companies start to base their European headquarters in the capital. This will be music to the ears of each of the mayoral candidates; however, they will have to contend with the growing faction of people who are suggesting that the focus on London is hampering the growth of the tech sector in other areas of the UK.  It will be very interesting to see who is successful in their bid to become the next Mayor of London and how they will deal with this.