The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, shared a stage in London to discuss city innovation with a focus on the tech sector, while also promoting the already strong links between London and Chicago.
Khan was bold in his praise for the city he leads, highlighting its strong position in eclipsing other European competition in spite of Brexit concerns; however Khan expressed an interest in tackling the tech skills gap, and making London as appealing as possible to the talent that is fostered in the capital.
Brexit underpinned the direction of Mr Khan’s message, as he continued to use the line ‘London is open’, a message of encouragement to the rest of the world following the vote to leave the European Union.
The Mayor of London said: “One of the reasons why we went on delegation last year to Chicago and then to New York was to spread a very simple message which can be encapsulated in three words, London is open.
“I would not want anybody to think that, particularly post-Brexit, that the decision of people outside of London actually, that voting to leave the EU means we are going to stop being open-minded, outward looking, the best place in the world if you are talented.”
So far London tech has a list of high profile companies committed to the city long-term, showing interest in big investment post-Brexit – a result unexpected by many who predicted immediate economic difficulty for the United Kingdom.
Khan detailed some of these examples, he said: “London is open, it is not simply a concept or a strapline, it is a state of mind. It is evidenced by the last twelve months – in the last twelve months we have had Apple, a big investment in London, Google, another big investment in London, Facebook, Snapchat, and I could go on.”
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, expressed great confidence in the UK when meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this year, saying: “We’re a big believer in the UK – we think you’ll be just fine. Yes, there will be bumps in the road along the way but the UK’s going to be fine.”
Apple is planning to transform Battersea Power Station into a major London headquarters for the company, a project that will generate at least 1,600 jobs in the UK capital while setting the confidence of the tech giant in stone.
Khan also mentioned a high priority concern within the tech sector generally, fuelled by Brexit in the UK – the tech skills gap.
“The tech world is very exciting, very exciting. One of my frustrations is that although we are very good at recruiting talent and retaining it, we are less good at skilling up our youngsters with the skills of tomorrow,” said Khan.
“So we have set up a couple of things just to address the issue of young people having their potential fulfilled, one of these things is Skills for Londoners.”
The requirement for key tech skills is growing exponentially on the back of major advances in cutting edge technology. Other areas are also in desperate need of tech skills, such as the world of cybersecurity, in which a small number of analysts are fighting losing battles with vast data volumes.
In line with this issue is the retention of talent, as many of the most skilled individuals fostered in the UK are lured by the tech opportunities on the West Coast of the United States, for example.
“One of the other things we have got to do is make sure that we make it easy for people to make connections, so we are very good at the game of producing really talented graduates and post-grads, but they leave and go elsewhere. Partly its making sure that the opportunities they have in America, they can have here in London, we are working very closely with Silicon Valley,” said Khan.
In spite of this problem area, the Mayor of London believes the capital should move with full speed ahead with innovation.
Sadiq Khan said: “I think we shouldn’t be scared of disruptive technology, we shouldn’t be scared of tech, what we should make sure we have though is we have the skills for the jobs of tomorrow. Linked with that is we have to make sure that we help startups to scale up and fulfil their potential, that means access to VC, access to businesses around the world, the world is now a smaller place, and you will see partnerships between Americans and Brits, and people from the Middle East and from Africa, and from other parts of the world.”
Recent figures from the Mayor’s official promotional agency, London & Partners recently revealed that London tech gained £1.1 billion from venture capital investment between January and June 2017.
“We are the only global city in Europe, we are the first capital of Europe, we are the tech capital of Europle, and we are the political capital of the UK. It appears we are leaving the European Union, my job as the mayor is to make sure I try and get the best deal for London,” said Sadiq Khan.