Labour’s Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London on Saturday after victory over Conservative Zac Goldsmith. But after 8 years of Boris Johnson in City Hall, what does London’s new mayor mean for tech and entrepreneurship in the capital?
Ahead of the Local Elections, both candidates made a number of pledges about London’s tech and start-up scenes. But now that the votes have been cast, how much change will we actually see? In order to better understand what we might expect from Sadiq Khan, let’s take a look at four key areas from his tech and business manifesto.
1. Rescuing commercial spaces:
Khan has pledged to prevent the loss of business space by working with local authorities to stop the conversion of commercial space under ‘permitted development rights’. He also has promised to protect and reserve areas specifically for small business and start-ups throughout London.
It remains unclear how easy this will be in practice, however, as findings suggest that city developers are hesitant ahead of the EU referendum, with confidence in commercial property development at a three-year low.
2. Growing and retaining talent:
Khan has expressed his desire to establish a tech talent pipeline to encourage more young people to gain key digital skills and more apprenticeships in the sector. He has also said he would encourage more girls to develop tech skills in order to combat the sector’s gender gap. Currently 15% of London tech businesses employ no women at senior management level, according to Tech London Advocates.
On a global scale Khan has said he would also call for a relaxation on skilled visas, stating: “We can’t on the one hand be encouraging people to invest financially in the country and then have really unfair restrictions on the tier 2 visa requirements”.
Up until now London’s only specialised method for recruiting overseas talent has been its 200 Tier 1 ‘Exceptional Talent’ visas. Although promising, only 37 applications have been submitted since April 2015 – in part due to a lack of awareness. In contrast, Tier 2 visas are oversubscribed and involve a lengthy process that many companies find off-putting.
3. Improving infrastructure:
One of Tech City’s biggest bugbears is the city’s lack of high-speed internet. Khan has pledged to improve connectivity and tackle London’s ‘notspots’, with a view to treat digital infrastructure with the same status as other key public utilities. As part of this he claims he will broker a deal between providers and local authorities to provide better access to public property and land for the installation of broadband infrastructure.
Over a million Londoners are unhappy with their broadband speed and only a third believe the capital has sufficient capacity to meet future demands, according to YouGov. The European Digital Forum’s European Digital City Index ranks London 12th for digital infrastructure: 26th for internet download/upload speed, 28th for mobile internet speed and 14th for the availability of fibre internet.
4. Creating a digital-first London:
Tech in London is a booming business – with 27% of all job growth in the city coming from the tech/digital sector. In order to make sure the sector is treated with care, Khan has said he will appoint a Chief Digital Officer to oversee growth, as well as taking responsibility for increasing digital inclusion across the city and leading on cyber-security.
As part of the plan to cement London as a global tech powerhouse, Khan claims he will put an open data strategy at the heart of London government, with a new London data office working to bring data from across London’s boroughs and public agencies together. He has also expressed a desire to support innovative solutions which enable Londoners to access and use public services more easily and efficiently.
In recent years both Vancouver and New York have introduced Chief Digital Officers in order to champion digital strategy and encourage innovation in the cities. It seems Khan will be looking to the USA, and New York in particular (given his comments about De Blasio’s ‘talent pipeline’), for inspiration during his tenure.