Russ Shaw is the founder of Tech London Advocates, a private sector-led, not-for-profit that promotes London’s technology sector. He’s also non-exec director of three tech companies
In May 2008, Lehman Brothers still traded from their New York offices, Old Street roundabout was barely serviced by broadband and Boris Johnson was beginning his term as London Mayor.
Sadiq Khan inherited this role last Sunday and now governs a city that has weathered the financial crisis to become the global capital of fintech, as well as being one of the top five tech cities in world.
London is home to 12 tech companies valued at more than $1bn and boasts exceptional startups in sectors from e-commerce to artificial intelligence. Yet our tech sector is still in its infancy and cannot be taken for granted.
If Mayor Khan is to be our most pro-business mayor ever, as was promised during the campaign, then his first 100 days in office need to include meaningful work targeting London’s tech sector.
Continuing the good work done by his predecessor, Mayor Khan must play an active role in championing our startups and scaleups abroad, with a survey of Tech London Advocates done for the election identifying this as their top priority.
In an industry that is global by default, this can make a big difference. Our reputation is growing and the Mayor’s office can amplify this through trade missions that highlight London’s strength in e-commerce, artificial intelligence and fintech.
Mayor Khan’s commitment to hiring a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) was welcomed by the tech community. He holds the opportunity and responsibility of defining and establishing the role for at least the next four years.
The role has been widely discussed since it was proposed in the ‘London’s Digital Future‘ manifesto created by TLA with the Centre for London think tank – and the buck now stops with the Mayor.
His headline manifesto pledges of investing in infrastructure, ensuring Skills for Londoners is aligned with business needs and freezing TfL fares will all require considerable data analysis.
The CDO role should be well-defined and the holder must be capable of supporting Mayor Khan’s challenging pledges while building an open data platform from scratch.
Skills, skills, skills
The Tech Talent Pipeline the Mayor proposes under Skills for Londoners is a fantastic prospect, and another opportunity to deliver on his commitment to business.
This pipeline can only work with considerable input from private enterprise, a model already successful in New York.
This means collaborating with companies to identify where the skills gap is most acute and setting up apprenticeship schemes in areas that will lead to successful employment outcomes.
The Apprenticeship Levy is an opportunity to bring a new recruitment model to an industry crying out for talent. By reserving places for under-represented groups, it can also help address the lack of diversity that is stunting our industry’s growth.
Housing, housing, housing
London’s soaring rents were central to campaign rhetoric from all candidates and now that Mayor Khan has won what he described as a “referendum on housing” he needs to make housing more affordable, even as our city’s population closes in on 10m.
Startup and scaleup founders and their employees often make less than bus drivers and if they are to live within commuting distance of our tech hubs, then Mayor Khan must address housing supply by costing and assessing all options.
Startups and scaleups are the lifeblood of our tech ecosystem and only by making rents manageable will we continue to attract the entrepreneurs that have built world-class companies in this city.
Mayor Khan’s most important job in the first 100 days is to give a clear indication of how he will work with the sector.
He may prioritise skills to progress his message of diversity and social inclusion.
Perhaps the Mayor’s office will be used as an example of best practice in digital integration by bringing tech into all City Hall functions.
The most important thing is that he indicates his intentions clearly and early on in his tenure, to provide entrepreneurs with much-needed reassurance in this time of uncertainty.
Our new mayor has already won the respect of London’s tech entrepreneurs through his pledges on skills and digital integration, as well as his strong backing of EU membership.
During his first 100 days he will have to address a housing crisis, a skills shortage and a referendum that could break London tech just as it is starting to flourish.
Winning the support of the tech community during this time can help him deliver on his promises in this area.