I was over to see Emer Coleman last week to chat about how the government might really advance the interesting ideas about turning Shoreditch into something to hit the radar with the global tech community. Can London really rival Silicon Valley? We could certainly do a lot more with what we have. See my 3 suggestions for what the Coalition might do to turn words into actions.
Emer is helping the Greater London Authority (GLA) advise the government on how best to proceed. She also drives the open data initiatives for the London Data Store which is helping get public data available to citizens. It is the taxpayers data after all and why should government be spending money making applications when they can just publish the data and let commercial organizations take it from there? She is very sensible about what government can do and not do (which I guess makes her a sort of radical force inside the GLA). Check her piece in the Guardian about open data.
The view from Old Street is that we are probably just best left alone here. If the Government really tries to help, it will probably just waste money and raise our taxes or rents. But maybe they will actually be able to do something useful? Anyway it is the Government, so I tried to keep my 3 suggestions short and possible within the next election cycle:
Give BT a kick to drop fiber all over the area. Low-cost gigabyte service will enable all kinds of amazing new services and products, plus lower costs for hosting services. We can invent new kinds of ISPs even. In the future, this type of bandwidth will be available, so give East London a early shot at working with it.
Up in Scotland companies can apply for Training Grants to offset some of the costs to bring in outside experts to train staff. This would be hugely beneficial in London and increase skills and expertise. If Scotland can offer these grants why can't the UK government do something simillar?
The government already has a good angel investment program with EIS, perhaps it could do a bit more to get people from outside the UK to actively support new start-ups. It's not just about cash (which is also critical), it is also about attracting expertise from people with a an interest in sharing back with their home country. It's about extending the reach of East London Tech City by connecting to the global tech community.
These actions won't alone turn Shoreditch into a powerhouse, but would at least be clear resources that would prove there is some substance behind the political hype. The road to building local business confidence in the government's pledges is maybe the first piece of infrastructure to put in place.