Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled plans to turn areas of east London into a UK version of Silicon Valley, with some of the world’s biggest tech companies setting up home there.
The plans include turning the Olympic Park press and broadcast centres into an ‘accelerator space’ once the 2012 Games are finished, offering office space and expertise to help companies develop. The East End Tech City, as it is called, will extend to Shoreditch and Old Street and aim to entice start-ups as well as established companies.
Vodafone, Google, Facebook, Cisco, Intel and McKinsey & Co have already committed to investing in the scheme while the government will plough £200m in as well. BT has agreed to bring forward the roll-out of superfast broadband in the area.
Announcing the launch of the scheme, Cameron said: "Right now, Silicon Valley is the leading place in the world for high-tech growth and innovation. But there’s no reason why it has to be so predominant. Question is: where will its challengers be? Bangalore? Hefei? Moscow?"
"My argument today is that if we have the confidence to really go for it and the understanding of what it takes, London could be one of them. All the elements are here," he continued. "And our ambition is to bring together the creativity and energy of Shoreditch and the incredible possibilities of the Olympic Park to help make east London one of the world’s great technology centres."
So why east London? "Something is stirring in east London. Only three years ago, there were just fifteen technology start-ups around Old Street and Shoreditch," Cameron explained. "Companies like the concert service Songkick; Moo, which prints business cards; and Last.fm, an online music community that was sold for £140m. Fast forward to today, and there are now over one hundred high-tech companies in the area. This on its own is incredibly exciting. But combine that with the possibilities of the Olympic Park."
To help companies set up here Cameron unveiled an ‘Entrepreneur Visa’ and a review of the UK’s intellectual property laws to make them, "fit for the internet age," Cameron said. He added that Google’s founders claimed they could never have started their company in Britain due to the way copyright laws work here.
The plans have received a mixed response from the tech industry.
"London has long been known as a financial services hub, but this label often overlooks the wealth of technology talent available to investors and the efficiencies it can bring to businesses, particularly during a challenging economic climate. We’ve already seen the technology explosion in Silicon Valley in the US, Hyderabad in India, so we should all be looking forward to ‘the eEnd’ putting the UK on the world map for technology innovation," said Bindi Bhullar, director, HCL Technologies.
Neil Rami, head of Business Birmingham, stressed that the rest of the UK cannot be left behind by the UK’s Silicon Valley. "It’s unclear how the rest of the UK will be affected by what looks like a move towards consolidating the technology industry," he said. "Technology start-ups can find good value rents, excellent business facilities, networking opportunities and free mentoring at science parks across the UK. It is vital that the east London technology hub has spin-off benefits for the rest of the UK and does not cannibalise thriving technology industries outside of London and the South East."
You can read a transcript of David Cameron’s speech here.