London needs a mayor of growth

Here East’s CEO Gavin Poole on why the next mayor must ensure London remains the tech capital of Europe, and the importance of learning from the past

On 6 May 2021, Londoners will be casting their votes to decide who will be the next mayor.

Already a year overdue, this mayoral election will be one of the most important so far for the capital. After a tough year of uncertainty, Londoners now deserve a clear way forward and a mayor who can deliver on an ambitious vision for growth and can drive economic recovery.  

This plan must strive to alleviate the scars the pandemic has left, and to develop a successful strategy that ensures London remains the tech capital of Europe and a main player on the global stage. 

If the next mayor is going to receive the backing of London’s entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors, they must learn lessons from the past, particularly the 2008 financial crisis – which also left seismic waves rippling through our economy. 

Right now, the focus should not be solely on the financial services firms threatening to leave London or never return to the office, but the verticals that allowed London to thrive after the financial crash – our world-class tech sector and burgeoning creative industries.  

Rise of creative industries

Too often, London feels stuck in the 80s, and the next mayor must recognise that the city’s job creation, investment and innovation is now being driven by fast-growth tech startups and world-class creative and media businesses. 

London tech is well-placed to support future growth – with businesses within the sector raising £15bn in venture capital funding alone in 2020, according to a report from Tech London Advocates (TLA). Our next mayor needs to embrace this – and support emerging verticals from e-sports to virtual reality.  

The digital sector has also seen a surge in hiring to pre-pandemic levels – but within the space, the likes of creative content creation, including streaming and video games, and digital fashion and fitness have come to the fore. Understandably so, given how the pandemic has required our lives to pivot into the virtual sphere.  

Take e-sports, for example. With live sporting events coming to a halt last March and millions stuck at home, people around the world turned to e-sports and gaming as a source of entertainment and competition.

The sector within London is growing stronger by the year, with London-based companies such as Here East tenant Sports Interactive and Gfinity experiencing a huge pandemic boost in users, and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park set to become a world-leading e-sports cluster, bringing in economic benefits and employment opportunities to east London.

With the UK gaming market hitting a record £7bn in 2020, it is these fast-growth technology verticals that the mayor needs to nurture and welcome inward investment opportunities. 

Technology roadmap

While it is clear that we need a pro-business mayor, they should not be beholden to it. If companies want to complain about Brexit and threaten to move to Europe, that is their choice to do so.

London will remain a globally significant city that will always attract the best talent, the best investors and the best business leaders – London has produced the greatest number of tech companies that exceed a $1bn valuation in Europe, according to research undertaken by TLA.   

The future of London will be shaped by those who commit to the capital, and the next mayor must ignore the naysayers and back those that are supporting the city – providing them with the resources and support they need to grow.  

That’s why, alongside some of the leading voices in tech such as Tech London Advocates, TechUK and London First, we have co-authored the London tech manifesto. It is a series of policy recommendations that provide a roadmap for the next mayor to ensure the continued success of London’s tech companies and embrace the digital innovations the city needs to remain open, competitive and efficient.

Finally, we need a mayor who does not let London’s presence dwindle amid the levelling-up debate. While the pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the country to level up, this should not be achieved by dragging London down. Finding an effective answer to the government’s levelling up policy will define the next City Hall administration.

As part of this, we need a mayor who ensures that generating a greater distribution of economic activity and investment across the country does not come at the expense of London. They must work to ensure that London remains an international tech hub enticing inbound capital, businesses and talent.

We cannot risk disturbing our tech sector that attracts record levels of investment when implementing a national levelling-up agenda as this money trickles throughout the country and wider economy. 

Similarly to after the global financial crash, London is at a crossroads, and the mayor of London has considerable power to affect the trajectory of our city. We need someone who strongly backs our fast-growing creative and tech sector – it is going to be the one of the fastest ways for our capital, and the country, to build back and recover from the current pandemic. 

 Gavin Poole is the CEO at Here East.

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