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London mayor Sadiq Khan to invest in digital skills and infrastructure across the capital

Draft economic development strategy promises to help Londoners access tech jobs, increasing digital skills, funding for small tech companies, and growing digital infrastructure

Digital infrastructure, connectivity and skills form key parts of London mayor Sadiq Khan’s draft economic development strategy.

The strategy, published today, outlines a series of measures to grow digital capability and technologies across the capital.

These include a Civic Innovation Challenge, which will be open to small and medium-sized tech companies that want to address issues such as inequality, climate change and the ageing population.

In his strategy, Khan reiterated plans to make London the “world’s leading smart city” and a global “testbed for tech-driven solutions to public service challenges”, such as low-carbon technologies.  

This requires better access to, and use of, data across both the public and private sectors, the strategy said, added that in the future, smart infrastructure should “conform to agreed common standards” to make data more secure and sharable.

“The mayor will help to establish common standards for collecting data and he will make more data open to the public,” the strategy said.

“London is already one of the world’s leading hubs for digital technology, with particular strengths in specialist fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), financial technology (fintech) and digital health.

“While technology is creating whole new industries, revolutionising existing ones and changing the way that transactions are made and content is consumed, it also has the potential to transform the experience that Londoners and visitors have of our city.”

Earlier this year, a group of London boroughs, together with the Greater London Authority (GLA), launched a scoping exercise looking at plans to create a London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) to join up digital initiatives in the capital. 

The strategy said LOTI would have the potential to “scope a collaborative model to promote agreed standards, develop better digital capabilities and improve procurement between participating boroughs to enable public services to meet London-wide challenges, such as improving air quality, improving the public realm or tackling homelessness”.

Better connectivity

The mayor’s strategy also highlighted the need for better connectivity across London. Last month, Khan’s draft London Plan acknowledged that when it comes to digital connectivity, the capital’s capabilities are still limited by issues such as mobile not-spots and lack of availability of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband.  

The draft strategy said connectivity is essential for digital companies across the capital, as well as the economy in general, and Khan said he would work with providers, developers, councils and government to develop guidance to support the digital connectivity policy set out in the London Plan.

“The mayor will promote the use of standardised access agreements and aid strategic bodies to improve access to public sector-owned property so that providers can make use of them,” the strategy said. “Boroughs should encourage the delivery of high-quality, world-class digital infrastructure as part of their digital strategies.”

It cited the London Underground as one of the capital’s highest-profile “not-spots”, and said that as part of improvements in communication tech for emergency services, “4G mobile communication will be provided on the underground”, and that Transport for London will look at potential use of its assets to deliver digital connectivity. 

Need for digital skills

The strategy, which is now open for consultation, also highlighted the need for more digital skills across London, including working with BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities to ensure people have the digital skills they need, as well as breaking down barriers to girls and those from BAME communities studying science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

Khan said: “By channelling investment into key areas, equipping Londoners with the skills, education and training they need to participate in the modern economy, and by investing in infrastructure and offering targeted support to certain sectors – such as tech, life sciences, the night-time economy and the capital’s creative industries – I believe we can deliver on this vision at the same time as helping London’s businesses go from strength to strength.”

His strategy pointed out that digital exclusion, such as lack of access to computers, digital connectivity and basic digital skills, is holding some groups back from work and from accessing support, which then leads to social and economic exclusion.  

Read more about a digital London

Khan plans to launch a digital inclusion strategy that will focus on ways to promote digital inclusion through local initiatives across the capital.

The strategy said the mayor’s office will work “in partnership with central government, local boroughs and other stakeholders to help get Londoners online, ensuring that national investment in digital skills provision is made available and taken up in the capital”.

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