We’re less than three months away from the London mayoral elections on May 5 and the competition is undeniably heating up. But given the importance of high-growth startups to the city’s future economic prosperity, it’s fair to say that the candidates’ tech credentials could make or break their campaigns. Which is why, in an effort to test their mettle, Tech London Advocates, techUK and Centre for London brought the five mayoral candidates to DebateTech at Hear East to debate the recent Mayoral Tech Manifesto and outline the measures they’d introduce to boost the capital’s thriving tech community.
Kicking off the digital hustings was Caroline Pidgeon, mayoral candidate for the Liberal Democrats, who threw down the gauntlet for the eurosceptics, stating that Britain must remain in the EU to ensure the capital’s tech has access to the funding it needs. “Immigration and the free movement of people within the European Union is vital for London’s tech sector,” she said. Another problem Pidgeon promised to tackle is the lack of diversity in the industry, proposing measures to help more women into the sector. “More flexible childcare is needed to help try and tackle this issue, along with challenging some of the stereotypes that we see,” she said.
As one might expect, UKIP candidate Peter Whittle was less favourable about the impact of the EU on UK tech. “[Britain’s] small and medium-sized businesses are hampered and strangled by the weight of regulations and directives [coming] from Brussels,” he said. Beyond fighting for a no vote in the forthcoming referendum, Whittle reiterated his party’s commitment to keeping the talent pipeline flowing by abolishing tuition fees for STEM subjects and installing a STEM representative in every school. “We [want to] properly equip young Londoners to develop the talent that you as an industry need,” he says.
Labour’s Sadiq Khan proclaimed that he wants to be the most pro-business mayor London has ever seen. “Many of the recommendations laid out in the manifesto reflect pledges that I have already committed to,” he said “Tech will soon stand beside finance as a central driver of London’s economy and our technology talent pipeline will be better than New York.” Not only did Khan promise the city a chief digital officer should he be elected but he also pledged to establish a review working with tech companies to help make London the number one city for digital. “I don’t want tech to be held back: I want us to [overtake] New York and eventually Silicon Valley,” he said.
As the only candidate with past experience of working at a tech startup, the Green Party’s Sian Berry stressed that she had personal insight into the need of London’s tech community. One key area that she promised to address was the difficulty that many tech startups face in securing finance. “It’s important that we don’t just rely on American companies to come in and finance our growing sector,” she said. “We need to be making sure that we grow our own Silicon Valley.” Berry also stressed that she would look to embrace open data and engage tech talent to improve London’s services and infrastructure. “There’s a lot of talent out there and we should be asking people how to do things,” she said.
Finally, Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith promised that, if elected, he would continue the work done by his predecessor. “Under Boris Johnson, London has become the tech capital of Europe,” he said. “Now it is time to scale things up.” Not only did Goldsmith say that he would like to turn London into a data-driven city, with tech firms helping to provide “more homes, better transport, safer streets and cleaner air”, but he also revealed plans to give the tech community more input into how education funding is allocated. “I’ll train up the talent that you need to thrive,” he said. “I want to devolve [education funding] down to businesses such as yours, working with local authorities to match training with real jobs.”
We’ll leave it up to you to decide which candidate came out on top. But whichever way you decide to vote, it’s worth bearing in mind the words of Sadiq Khan when entering the polling booths: “Being a mayor for all Londoners means being a mayor for tech.”