When the candidates for the Mayoral election gathered at Here East in 2016 to speak to the capital’s technology community, no one could have predicted the extent to which Brexit and a global health pandemic would utterly transform the five years that followed. Unfortunately, since then, it seems the ambition of London’s tech sector appears to have outgrown that of its next Mayor.
This year’s Mayoral candidates received a series of policy recommendations from the leading industry bodies in the London tech and business community – Tech London Advocates, techUK, London First, Centre for London, Here East and Plexal – to ensure the continued success of London’s tech sector. Each candidate was offered a chance to respond to the city’s entrepreneurs, investors and leaders at a virtual event earlier this week. While the candidates agreed on the need to champion tech companies and highlighted some green tech initiatives, strategic views on how they will fund, support and skill London’s business sector were lacking.
It is clear the recovery will be increasingly shaped by fast growth tech companies and the city’s world-leading businesses. Helping London’s companies to further increase in size and scale will allow the capital to maintain its position on the world stage as a globally competitive hub for business, innovation and entrepreneurship. Yet, none of the candidates said anything about the investor community. It’s important for the next Mayor to engage meaningfully with both businesses and investors to maintain critical investment in London’s business ecosystem.
The candidates touched on the importance of digital skills but said little on concrete actions to boost investment in London. Tech companies have been responsible for the vast majority of job creation in London over the last ten years and so renewed investment into digital skills learning and re-skilling is essential to address the city’s growing levels of unemployment and digital divide. The Mayor did reference previous funding for developing digital talent, but did not outline his plans for the next term.
Looking beyond the recovery from the pandemic, we asked the next Mayor to create a city that is a global leader in digital citizenship, tech for good and net zero. The Mayoral candidates rarely acknowledged London’s position as a genuine world leader in embracing innovation and emerging technologies or declared how it will remain at the forefront of positive change. This is essential to combat climate change, reduce pressure on our public transport system and leverage data to increase efficiencies in the way people interact with public services.
Tech has become a leading industry in London precisely because of its ambition and focus on growth, regardless of the challenges that stand in its way. The next Mayor of London has an opportunity to meet those ambition levels and create a sustainable recovery driven by technology and innovation. They need to engage both the technology sector and the City as these are the powerhouses essential to London’s future success.
In doing so, the capital can enhance its global tech leadership position, evolve to meet the requirements of changing times and positively contribute to the UK’s economic recovery in the years ahead. Having bold, visionary Mayoral leadership for London’s tech sector would significantly support this continued ambition.