Ensuring Our Digital Future

Nov 17, 2017 · Guest post from Gavin Poole, Chief Executive of Here East and a Tech London Advocate

Future city

It may come as little surprise to close followers of the tech industry that this year’s Tech London Advocates report has found that the majority of tech entrepreneurs consider the impact of Brexit to be the biggest threat to their businesses. 61% believe that it has already impacted the sector – particularly from an access-to-talent perspective, with a third losing out on hiring new talent since the vote last June.

However, I want to avoid the temptation to be overly pessimistic here. While Brexit is undoubtedly a challenge for London’s tech sector, and its wider economic success, it does also present us with opportunities that did not exist previously – mainly the promise of access to new global markets. The London tech sector continues to outperform the rest of the UK economy has so far seen record levels of investment this year, and just under 10% of this has come from Europe. Furthermore, Mayor Sadiq Khan’s #LondonIsOpen campaign shows the world that the city remains welcoming and accessible. This suggests that, quietly, London’s famously open and agile economy is readjusting to meet the political realities that it now finds itself in. In is in this spirit that the Tech London Advocates have this week launched a Global Tech Advocates programme to consolidate connections with international tech hubs around the world.

The years ahead will undoubtedly be challenging, and there is no one single silver bullet that will shield it from the impact of change, but there are a number of things that London, and other global cities, can do to keep itself at the forefront of success in the tech industry. These focus on three core areas: a flexible attitude towards immigration, a commitment to skill development, and investment in cutting-edge infrastructure.

First, we should ensure that any post-Brexit immigration systems are flexible enough to allow London and other prospective tech hubs across the UK to take advantage of the best global talent available. Tech UK and the Centre for London have recently argued that international students should be disregarded from migration statistics. This would send a message to prospective students and graduates that London really is open for business, and hopefully prevent a fall in future high-skilled migration to London. With this in mind, the Government’s announcement this week that it is doubling the number of specialist technology visas for highly skilled non-EU migrants will be welcomed by startups fearing a post-Brexit talent shortage.

Second, nurturing skills development will be vital to London’s continued global success, particularly for the tech sector. Recent political developments do not change the fact that London is brimming will talent and, importantly, the world leading institutions needed to hone this talent. On example of this is at Here East where UCL plans to open a cutting-edge Robotics Institute in January. For London to continue as a world leader we need to place skills at the centre of our post-Brexit strategy. Again, we are making steps in the right direction, the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy earlier this year placed work-focused non-graduate education at the centre of the debate. Let’s take this even further by prioritising high level technical education in areas like VR, AR, 3D printing and robotics. Additionally, increased collaboration between businesses and education would provide today’s students with the skills they need to succeed in the future world of work. Tech super hubs like Here East, that place businesses side-by-side with education institutions, are a good way to encourage this collaboration.

The third area we should focus on is ensuring that our digital infrastructure remains world-leading, particularly in areas like connectivity. With the 2017 Budget fast approaching this is a topical issue; the Chancellor has himself acknowledged that the public may be growing weary of the ‘long slog’ of austerity. Experts at Deloitte have also called for increased investment in infrastructure as a means to increase productivity levels. With this in mind, making some sensible investments in ensuring that all areas have access to internet of the highest speeds would help cement London’s place as a leading tech capital.

Even keeping these three areas in mind, it is clear that there is no one easy answer to the challenges that London’s and the UK economies will face in the coming years. However, the city has always been agile and entrepreneurial and I do not see this changing in the immediate future. While we may in the coming years will look to Bangalore, San Francisco and Singapore on an equal footing to how we currently look to Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam for partnerships, this presents us in the long-term with more opportunities for truly global success.


Gavin Poole, CEO, Here East

Gavin is the CEO of Here East, the unique campus for the creative and digital industries being developed on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Gavin previously spent 4 years at the Centre for Social Justice, a political think tank for social regeneration, first as the Strategy Director and then as the Executive Director. Prior to this Gavin served in the Royal Air Force for 23 years as an aeronautical engineer before leaving in 2008. His last appointment as a Wing Commander was as an advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Defence/Minister for Veterans under the last government. He has extensive experience in strategic planning, organisational reform, change management and implementation of policy.

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