Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate to be the next mayor of London, has just launched his “Blueprint for Business” mini-manifesto that details his plans to support London’s Business community.
The manifesto, which describes London as “the most Googled city in the world,” contains some interesting ideas for meeting the three big challenges facing London’s startup community — high rent prices, bad broadband, and a shortage of high-skilled workers.
Business Insider UK caught up with Goldsmith as he visited Fab Lab, a creative space in the City that helps people learn about digital fabrication and rapid prototyping, to get some more details on his plans to help London businesses.
We started our conversation just after Connecting Neurons, a business that uses Fab Lab’s space, had shown Goldsmith how to burn an image of his face onto the wooden tiles for their new game “Pegged In.” Goldsmith looked very happy with his personalised gaming pieces and was keen to talk about the potential for places like Fab Lab to change society. He said (emphasis ours):
It’s an absolutely amazing environment. I mean, I’ve more energy and dynamism and excitement in a place like this. You can’t come here and not believe that this is the future. It’s extraordinary, and all these young people — it’s not just young people — but these young people next door showed me things I’ve never seen before. Completely fluent with technology and things that are cutting edge. It’s absolutely brilliant — and I can imagine that places like this, and there’s lots of them all over the place. They are going to create, you know, the society changes of the future. It’s very impressive.
One of the biggest problems facing the creative startups that Goldsmith thinks are so important to the future is the increasing cost of renting office space in London. Goldsmith has an unusual solution to this problem — he wants to make unused space in Tube stations available to startups. He also thinks Croydon could be the next big thing in London tech (again emphasis ours).
The problem at the moment, is that even though we have this magnificent tech cluster here, there’s another one emerging in Croydon as you know. Just as residents are being priced out of the market, it’s almost impossible to get on the housing ladder, so too are businesses. There are three components to this that we need to tackle, one of them is to ensure that TFL [Transport for London] infrastructure is made available to startups, not on a permanent basis, but on a short-term basis, you’ve got some of the most valuable retail space in the world in the TFL underground stations. When you develop mayoral land, GLA [Greater London Authority] land, TFL land, where appropriate, which would be most of the time, you ensure you create space for small businesses, startups — not just tech startups — just startups generally. That would enable a lot more capacity if you did that.
As wells as letting startups operate out of unused, publicly-owned space, Goldsmith also wants to set up something he calls a “match-making service” to bring large companies with space and expertise and smaller businesses together. While he doesn’t have any exact details on how it will work, Goldsmith told us that as Mayor he would essentially work as a middleman, striking deal between businesses. He said (emphasis ours):
This is based on the Google project, Google Campus, which is effectively a mentoring scheme that allows small startup businesses to benefit from existing large-scale infrastructure. And I think there’s a lot more we can do about that — we’re working that up at the moment.But actually from a legislative point of view, or from the point of view of the mayor him or herself, it’s more about using the position as a convener, trying to make deals between big business and up and coming small businesses. That’s why it’s called a match-making service, it’s not something that can be mandated by the Mayor.
Goldsmith clearly thinks that TFL property is the key to solving a lot of the problems faced by London’s startups. Not only could the land solve rent problems, he also says it could be used to help create a superfast broadband network.
We have massively valuable infrastructure in London that could be put to use. TFL has 560 km of network, of tunnels, of bridges of roads and so on. And if that were made available, in order to create a superfast broadband network for London — it could be one internally and it would generate a lot of money for TFL. Or it could be done by outsourcing and it would therefore not cost us a penny, in fact, TFL would earn an income from renting out the space. but that’s something that could happen very, very quickly.
Business Insider also discussed the problems businesses face in securing visas for highly-skilled, non-EU workers. While issues surrounding visas are set by the Home Office, Goldsmith says he would still try to negotiate a deal with the government on behalf of London. He’s also a big fan of the government-backed Tech City’s failed scheme to bring exceptionally talented technology workers from outside the EU into the UK.
I think the mayor’s job is to intervene where there is a sector specific problem. So if there if a sector that is struggling to recruit the brightest and the best because they don’t qualify — they don’t sort of reach the threshold in order to get the visa — then the job of the mayor is to try and negotiate a deal for that sector from government. And the best example of that was Tech City, there are fast-track visas, that is the technical term for them, which were welcomed and highly effective
Goldsmith was pushed for time and needed to nip off in a taxi for his next meeting at Runway East, a “tailored community for the UK’s top innovators and entrepreneurs.” But before he went, BI managed to get in one last question. What was his favourite London tech startup?
He replied: “Tech startup? I don’t know. But FabLab, does that qualify? Probably not. But I think these guys, are maybe … Did you see my board? It’s an amazing, it’s a very impressive setup. I wish them all the best and I will be enjoying playing that game after this campaign when I have a few minutes to do so. But they haven’t got a name yet have they? Kate? Have these guys got a name? I’m sorry, the business, the gamemakers. Connecting Neurons? That’s the name of the company? OK, well that’s my favourite tech startup, it’s got to be it.”
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