Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith promises to continue Boris Johnson’s legacy with pro-tech policies, green tech hub, and broadband in tube network
Zac Goldsmith’s campaign to become Mayor of London is urging the capital’s technology community not to jeopardise the growth encouraged by the incumbent Boris Johnson, promising to promote the sector, use technology to aid other businesses and improve the life of Londoners
“The language of coding is as alien to me as Swahili but I’m hugely excited about what tech means for London,” he said at DebateTech earlier this year. “London’s tech companies are making global waves and it’s time to scale things up. That’s what I’ll do.
“We are in a great place in terms of tech at the moment. We are leading Europe but must go further and lead the world.”
In his manifesto, the Conservative party candidate said he would work with local and central government to help tech firms scale up with business-friendly policies and a reduction in red tape.
He pledged to continue to promote UK tech abroad, break up large City Hall IT contracts into smaller ones that could be delivered by smaller businesses and establish a £1 million ‘Mayor’s Tech Challenge’ that would invite firms to solve issues such as waste management and crime reporting using public data.
“Boris has banged the drum of London better than any politician,” he said, adding that startups didn’t want government money, but connections. “The job of a politician is to create an environment that promotes innovation.”
A green tech hub in the West of London is also envisaged, while there is also support for tech hubs in Tech City and in Croydon. The tech sector would be one of 12 represented on a Mayor’s Business Advisory Group too.
Skills and immigration
Goldsmith added that once the adult skills budget, which comes into the Mayor’s control in 2019, would be used to improve further education and address a skills shortage, particularly with STEM subjects.
Training appears to be a priority for the MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, but he also said companies would be able to recruit the best international talent – even if the UK leaves the European Union (EU).
“We have a distorted immigration policy. I would prefer us to have a much more global immigration approach,” he said. “But it’s hard when you have an open door approach from Europe.”
Goldsmith plans to open up 560 kilometres of Transport for London’s (TfL) railway routes, tunnels and bridges to improve broadband across the city, in stations and bring mobile coverage to the capital’s subterranean railway. He added he would work with all boroughs in a recognition that broadband is now the “fourth utility.”
“This is a very valuable network and there are already companies lining up,” he claimed, suggesting that mobile operators are especially keen on extending their coverage into tube tunnels.
While there is plenty of support for rail transport, Goldsmith is vehemently opposed to expanding Heathrow, a move that could make it difficult for potential investors to do business in the capital.
Like many of the other candidates, Goldsmith would appoint a chief digital officer (CDO) that would analyse data to influence public policy, such as traffic management, recycling and public health, and make datasets available on an open basis to developers. More than 850 such datasets have been made available and Goldsmith has grand ambitions of making London the “Singapore of Europe.”
He added that technology, such as body cameras, iPads and online reporting systems, could help the Metropolitan police tackle crime, but said it was necessary for the government to have powers to fight cybercrime and terrorism.
“One area the tech sector can help with is the battle against terror,” he said, stating that powers should be handed to the authorities on the condition there is a “sunset clause” that requires parliament to debate legislation every five to six years. “We have never been as under threat.”
But above all, Goldsmith appears keen to position himself as the safe choice for the tech sector when the polls open on 5 May.
“Now is not the time to experiment with London’s phenomenal success, now is the time to scale up,” he said.
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