Quick reflections on #DebateTech

Mayoral candidates at DebateTech

This afternoon I was at the  event held at Here East in Hackney, East London. It was a hustings for the London mayoral candidates, organised by Tech London Advocates (TLA). There were representatives from (left to right) the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Labour, Green Party, and the Conservatives. I was there representing City & Guilds, one of my clients. 

Much of the time was dedicated to responding to a nice-looking manifesto that TLA have put together. It includes the following points:

  1. Conduct an innovation audit: a London-wide audit of regulation to prepare for the impact of technology innovation.
  2. Full digital inclusion: a digital inclusion strategy that puts digital opportunities in the hands of all Londoners.
  3. World class cyber security: clear, accessible cyber security advice and support for all businesses and citizens.
  4. Plan ahead for broadband: make broadband the ‘fourth utility’ in London.
  5. From notspots to hotspots: a consistent planning permission regime across London.
  6. Shore up the supply of commercial space: exempt commercial spaces from policies that alow residential conversions.
  7. Take the London message global: champion London’s tech specialisms with international trade missions.
  8. Prioritise investment incentives: supoprt for investment incentives and encouragement of corporate venturing.
  9. Build a tech talent pipeline: a comprehensive strategy for digital skills to rival New York’s tech talent pipeline.
  10. Champion digital apprenticeships: a Digital Apprenticeships Task Force to increase the quality and quantity of schemes for tech.
  11. Be bold on visas: advocate key visa routes for tech professionals.
  12. Hire a London Chief Digital Officer: a London CDO responsible for delivering a world beating digital strategy for the city
  13. Create an open data charter: an Office of Data Analytics to put data at the heart of public service delivery.

It was interesting to see that none of the five candidates could speak confidently about tech. Notably, Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate, addressed this in his opening remarks, saying that coding is “like Swahili” to him. Meanwhile, Sian Berry (the Green Party candidate) mentioned that she’d worked at a startup between 2008 and 2011, despite it being clear that tech is not an area of great expertise for her. 

This, of course, doesn’t particularly matter. The Mayor of London shouldn’t have to be an expert in every area of policy. Their power is also more symbolic than administrative. That being said, it was good to see commitments from the four serious candidates that they would hire a CDO for London. The UKIP candidate seemed to be there fore comedy effect, and was treated as such.

The other three points that were focused on at the hustings were broadband connectivity, digital skills, and digital apprenticeships. No detailed policy announcements were made, but these events are useful for seeing in broad brushstrokes terms what the mood is across the board.

In terms of the 13 manifesto items listed above, I think the tech community can be fairly certain that, no matter who is elected in May, points 4, 10, and 12 will be an area of focus. There’s also a good likelihood that points 3, 7, 9, and 13 will be acted upon.