For the second year running Shoosmiths sponsored the Silicon Valley comes to the UK (SVC2UK) Summit aimed at bringing people together to connect the global tech community, foster an inclusive and diverse network of entrepreneurs, and inspire the next generation of innovators.
This year the Summit was held virtually and included a discussion on “London: a ‘Good Growth’ Recovery” between Natalie Campbell, the recently appointed CEO of Belu Water (the social enterprise company which fulfils the water requirements of the UK’s catering sector, giving most of its profits to WaterAid) and Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London.
While acknowledging the personal heartbreak and immediate challenges to civil society and commerce posed by coronavirus, the Mayor also highlighted the potentially positive impact that recovery from the pandemic could have for London and its people. Here we pick up on the major themes of their conversation.
What should ‘good growth’ look like in London?
The Mayor acknowledged that London (in common with many other cities in the UK) was facing its most challenging period in recent history. He dismissed the view that London had achieved “peak growth” and should focus on managing decline and preferred instead to encourage growth that would deliver “profit with a purpose” and in a good way. He conceded however that the economic, social and health impact of coronavirus could not be overstated in this context, so restoring confidence in the city, minimising the impact on London’s most vulnerable communities and rebuilding the city’s economy and society were the most immediate priorities.
A missions based approach, inspired by UCL’s Professor Mariana Mazzucato, has been adopted to meet this challenge, bringing together the public, private and voluntary sectors, but the Mayor stressed that work on London’s recovery would be informed by the guiding principles of addressing social, economic and health inequalities.
He observed that while COVID-19 had accelerated changes (many positive such as greater access to GP surgeries through electronic consultations and the use of virtual classrooms) already in train, the pandemic had also exaggerated and exacerbated existing inequalities:
“If you are a BAME Londoner you are twice as likely to die from COVID-19. You’re three times more likely to die if you are a manual worker rather than an office worker and if you are a working mother you are 50% more likely to lose your job after furlough.”
A green new deal for London
The Mayor insisted that, contrary to an earlier assertion that “there is no such thing as society”, the pandemic had increased the importance of “community” once again. In that regard he cited his admiration (despite being a self-confessed Liverpool fan) for the work done by Marcus Rashford, the 23-year-old Manchester United footballer, in reversing government policy and putting food on the tables of struggling families.
However, the Mayor was equally insistent that recovery would still require policies to encourage private sector investment and increased public-private partnership approaches to deliver revenues to support social initiatives and fair opportunities for all.
The Mayor highlighted what he termed the “green new deal” to help London to recover by creating new jobs and skills, with action particularly required to ensure digital access for all and help for young Londoners, who face the spectre of unemployment levels not seen since the 1980s – a whole generation written off.
The Mayor reiterated his ambition for London to become a zero-carbon, zero pollution city by 2030 and a zero-waste city by 2050. London already has more all-electric buses and taxis than any other city in Europe and even now London’s green economy is worth more to the city than the construction and manufacturing sectors combined. London’s growing low carbon and environmental goods and services sector is already worth £40bn, employing nearly 250,000 people.
The Mayor suggested that this trajectory will be even more important in a post-Brexit world:
“Putting the environment at the centre of our recovery is a chance to bring new investment to London, help businesses achieve sustainable long-term growth, and provide decent, skilled, local jobs. Modernising our public transport, making our city greener and better able to cope with the impacts of climate change is also essential.”
Pandemic disruption creates space for innovation
The Mayor maintained that , if there was a “silver lining” to the tragedy of COVID-19, it was in the possibilities a planned response to the disruption created by the pandemic opened up for genuinely innovative, sustainable, and more accessible solutions to the entrenched problems the city faced involving the public, private and voluntary sectors. Building the economic, industrial and political foundations so London’s green economy can grow is vital in delivering a cleaner, greener, prosperous and more equitable London.
One lever for change and innovation directly under the control of the Mayor is using the procurement power of Transport for London (TfL) to encourage investment and ‘good growth’, however Sadiq Khan also conceded that persuading national government to get on board was also crucial element in ensuring the recovery of the nation’s capital.