Carl Court/Getty Images Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate to be the next mayor of London, announced on December 18 that he wants more powers devolved from central government to the mayor’s office in order to support London’s tech sector.
Business Insider caught up with Khan as he hurried between meetings with tech companies in “Tech City” to find out what Khan believes he has to offer London’s burgeoning technology scene. (Tech City is the nickname of the large cluster of startup technology companies in East London.)
Khan is positioning himself as the champion London tech has been crying out for. “The tech sector in London has got unique opportunities and also unique challenges, and they need a champion to get through all the red tape, cut through the bureaucracy, help them fulfil their potential,” he told Business Insider.
Khan is not short of enthusiasm for Tech City, confidently declaring that the tech cluster has the potential to not only overtake New York, but to catch up and overtake San Francisco as well. He also thinks he has the solutions to the challenges facing tech companies; he just needs to be given the power to implement his plans.
Decisions taken nearer to where they happen in fact are better taken. So rather than civil servants in Whitehall deciding what’s best for London, I think the mayor, being the champion of tech city, is a far better play. So for example, who decides what courses are being taught? Who decides the curriculum? Who decides for example whether we should invest in internet learning? … I think having a mayor given powers and responsibility to that will lead to more effective steps being taken.
Jeremy Wilson/Business Insider Khan emphasised the importance of giving the mayor control over more aspects of education, saying that if he is given responsibility for skills, he will help train up the next generation of tech sector workers.
I can speak to today’s tech companies and say, what skills do you need? Help me devise the courses, help provide the courses to train up today’s Londoners to have the skills for tomorrow.
It’s well known that tech companies in London often struggle to hire top talent from outside the European Union because of the UK’s tough immigration laws. Interestingly, Khan praises the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Secretary of State for Business Sajid Javid for understanding that the immigration system is holding London back. According to Khan, the “problem” is Home Secretary Theresa May.
If elected into the Mayor’s office, Khan promises to work with Osborne to fight May and the Home Office.
It’s about having immigration rules that understand that the needs of London aren’t currently being met. So, I’ll fight the Home Office, explain to the government why it’s important. The good news is, I think George Osborne, Sajid Javid, they get it — the problem is Theresa May and so the internal politics of the Conservative Party are stopping the government doing a U-turn that changes immigration rules so they meet the needs of London … The point I’d make to George Osborne and the government is is that it’s in neither of our interests for London not to be succeeding. So if you want, as I know you do, for our country to do well, you need London to do well. At the moment, your immigration rules are a hindrance rather than a help.
Khan also has a plan to fix the problem of offices being turned into luxury flats, something that is pushing up the cost of office space in London. He says fixing the housing crisis will be the biggest single benefit to businesses in London.
We’ve got the government passing laws which allow permitted development to change industrial work space offices to residential. We’ve got to change that. So, as the mayor I would make sure my London Plan recognised that actually we need affordable work spaces … I’d use the planning law to ensure that happens.
Khan actually has some positive words to say about the current Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson, praising the work he has done to promote London business around the world.
I think Boris Johnson has been very good at selling London overseas, his recent trip to Israel, his trip to Japan have been very good.
That said, he has plenty of criticism for the current mayor as well, saying that Johnson has failed to secure the powers needed to help London’s tech sector, failed to address the education concerns of tech employers, failed to address raising rents.
I think where he’s failed is understanding that actually, the work that Tech City is doing should permeate through nearly everything that we do, he’s failed to get us the powers we need as a city, he’s failed to understand the importance of training the next generation. One of the reasons why Tech City was set up around Silicon Roundabout and Shoreditch was because of the low cost of accommodation. He’s failed to use planning laws to make sure these companies can stay and they can grow. Not all has been bad, but the next mayor of London needs to be passionately pro-business and passionately pro-tech. And that’s going to be me.
Jeremy Wilson/Business Insider “Pro-business” is a phrase that Khan is throwing around a lot at the moment. He even told City A.M. that he wants to be the “most pro-business mayor we have ever had.” When Business Insider asked him to explain what he meant by that, Khan cites his experience helping run a business as something that makes him stand out from his rivals in the Mayoral race. Before his main opponent, the Conservative Zac Goldsmith became a politician, he worked as a journalist for a magazine founded by his uncle.
As the only candidate who has helped run a business, I know the stresses you go through in relation to worrying about whether you’ll get an overdraft facility, whether you’ll get the wages paid, whether you’ll get the staff in your work, whether you can expand and grow. Because I understand what it’s like, the challenges of running a business, I’ll make sure London works to your advantage, making sure you as a business have skilled staff, making sure you as a business can get affordable property, making sure you as business aren’t losing young staff because they can’t afford to live in London because of the housing crisis.
Business Insider’s interview with Khan was cut short as we reached the offices of Sports Interactive, the maker of Football Manager and one the UK’s largest video game studios, where the director told Khan the same story he has heard from tech companies across London: rent is too high and talent is too hard to come by.