Last month, research from UHY Hacker showed Croydon’s burgeoning reputation as a tech hub has made it the fastest-growing economy in UK.
This was a huge news for those of us at the forefront of reconstituting the largest town in Europe from a national joke into the "Silicon Valley of South London". However, the question must surely arise: where was Tech City UK in all of this?
Tech City UK is a government-funded quango established in 2010 with the express remit to accelerate the growth of digital businesses in London and, latterly, cities across the UK.
Since its inception, Tech City UK has been under near-constant criticism – as much for its role as its results. Critics condemn it as an example of central government largesse (it receives over £2m a year) to publish positive ‘spin’, rather than deliver job creation and economic growth. Leading tech voices outside London have been quick to highlight how little of the money given to Tech City UK actually ever goes to worthy recipients north of Clerkenwell.
This year it was discovered that while Tech City UK has the power to give out 200 Tier 1 "Exceptional Talent" visas each year, it managed to distribute just 28 in 2015.
Tech City UK’s much-vaunted Future Fifty scheme, supposedly geared towards accelerating the 50 highest performing tech companies in the country, were announced to great fanfare and then left unaided for the first six months. Today, there is still scepticism as to how much help the scheme has delivered.
Unable to secure the commercial partnerships necessary to keep going, Tech City UK has haemorrhaged staff leaving it as little more than a glorified PR company; periodically releasing reports and throwing parties at No.10, rather than empirically improving local communities’ access to Britain’s growing tech economy.
Which would be fine, except that the Croydon Tech City success story – fostered by driving tech culture, improving business skills, creating talent pipelines and changing the reputation of the borough – has shown by contrast what can be done with little external funding, a leadership team of three, and no material government backing.
The British government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to harnessing the economic, cultural, and social benefits of technological entrepreneurialism, yet is failing to do so through vehicles such as Tech City UK.
What’s happening in Croydon cannot be ignored. In five short years, a once-neglected town has turned itself around to become a gold standard in economic success. If the government truly believes that Croydon Tech City’s strategy is the “blueprint for the future”, it should take a leaf out of CTC’s book, start funding similar localised bodies that actually deliver results, and then disband Tech City UK.
— UPDATE: STATEMENT FROM TECH CITY UK
"Tech City UK is extending an invitation to show how its programmes and advocacy work make an impact on the UK's digital sector and to find out even more about Croydon Tech City. Jonny Rose will be invited to meet with the team and discuss further how Tech City UK could further help accelerate digital businesses and skills."