Do the Conservatives not have a plan for Croydon Tech City?

By - Monday 7th April, 2014

Coulsdon West candidate and local Conservative activist Mario Creatura argues that the best thing the government can do for a grassroots movement is stay out of the way

Photo by Mike Beecham, used with permission.

The Conservatives have no plans for Croydon Tech City.

Take a moment for that to sink in. It’s likely not what you’re used to from a local political bod.

When something good happens in Croydon, we’re used to politicians doing their best to tie themselves with that project to make themselves look good by association. In their shoes, most would do the same for an easy PR win.

In politics you’re arguably only as good as your public perception and as such blatant populist kowtowing may help bolster your chances of electoral survival. The reasoning is easy enough to understand. But to me, and to the Conservatives in Croydon, to politically posture with a grassroots project that frankly doesn’t have anything to do with us is hollow and worthless. And everyone can see through it.

It’d be the easiest thing in the world to put out a press release saying that we ‘support’ the movement, but that would be sycophantic twaddle. I know Jonny Rose won’t mind me pointing out the blatantly obvious: his ego is regularly bolstered with flattery from all and sundry, mainly empty words with no concrete gestures to back them up.

It’s done perfectly well without us up to this point, why should we get involved now?

All of this is not to say the Conservatives don’t care about Croydon Tech City – we do, very much so. Councillors Parker, Pollard, Cummings, Hoar, Speakman, Mohan and many others including candidates like me and Andy Stranack, have attended the monthly gatherings to keep abreast of its progress. But we try not to interfere. We care about Croydon Tech City to the same degree as we care about all small and medium enterprises in the borough. Our philosophy is not one of interventionism, deigning to use council fiat to manipulate or control the local tech movement in a way that suits our political and economic ambitions. No, our goal is to leave it alone, let it continue as a grassroots movement and grow as its members see fit. It’s done perfectly well without us up to this point, why should we get involved now?

We aim to help by reducing the burdens facing small business start-ups. Last year this was typified when we made Croydon the first council in the UK to waive business rates for a year – by freeing essential cash to help fund unimaginably high start-up costs, the council is supporting the creation of jobs and so helping to bolster the local economy in the process. The Conservatives and the council generally are here if needed, but our default position is that the best people to make Tech City work are the people that already make Tech City work. Reducing bureaucracy, creating the accessible structures needed for it to flourish and generally keeping out of the way of entrepreneurs is the way to go. But we can always do more, which is why I personally believe open data sharing (of the kind that Alex Bilbie recently spoke about) is essential to the instinctive and long-term evolution of public services.

There are many challenges facing Tech City in Croydon. The hunt for ever-elusive seed funding continues apace and encouraging activism that goes beyond simply turning up to their Matthews Yard shindigs once a month is essential. But Jonny, Nigel and Sarah know all this already. Leave Tech City to them and they’ll soon join with others and in time will solve their struggles like any other strong urban collective.

Politicians shouldn’t take credit for community projects: our role is to create the environment for them to have the freedom to flourish or fail

Croydon Labour has been harping on about Tech City for a long time. Platitudes are flung at Messrs Rose and Dias by hosting time-wasting ‘tech manifesto development’ meetings or lengthy soliloquies in the council chamber to their greatness. I don’t want to downplay Tech City’s record – it has certainly been a monumental success to date – but there must come a time when Labour realises that politicians shouldn’t take credit for community projects. Our role is to create the environment for them to have the freedom to flourish or fail naturally. And that’s just what the current Conservative administration has done. By bringing in huge investment from the likes of Westfield and Hammerson the regeneration of the town is finally being triggered and will create thousands of jobs, developing the conditions needed in Croydon to support entrepreneurism – and building the structures needed to help Tech City thrive in its own way.

Tech City doesn’t need the involvement of politicians to be a success. We can champion and publicise, promote and encourage involvement. We’re here if a serious problem occurs, but frankly the local tech community is smarter than most and can innovate their way out of a hole without bureaucracy and tedious egotism getting in the way.

The Conservatives don’t have a plan for Croydon Tech City because we’re confident that Croydon Tech City can look after itself and excel without our direct involvement. I’ve no doubt Tech City can continue to be a huge success, but I for one think this experiment is best left growing on its own without artificial political insemination.

Gavin Barwell (MP, Croydon Central) and Steve Reed (MP, Croydon North) will be discussing Croydon Tech City on Thursday April 10th at 7pm at Croydon Conference Centre.

Registration is required: either by signing up to the event on Eventbrite or  with your name to confirm your attendance.

Mario Creatura

Mario Creatura

Mario is a lifelong Croydon resident. He works for Heineken as their Public Affairs Manager. He has previously worked in Parliament as a researcher for Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central. Mario has been a Conservative Councillor for Coulsdon West on Croydon Council since May 2014.

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  • David White

    I believe there are some areas where Croydon politicians can help further the aims of Croydon Tech City, for example:-
    1. Ensuring that as many Croydon schools as possible have Code Clubs and the opportunity to learn about tech matters.
    2. Promoting tech start-up companies along with other parts of Croydon’s economy and flagging up Croydon as a Tech City borough.
    3. Employing one or two officers whose role is to see that the Council optimises its use of computer technology, and to comment on tech aspects in all major reports.
    4. Seeing that all appropriate Council tech contracts are put out to tender to allow local enterprises to put in a bid (no repeat of the My Croydon app mistakes).
    5. (possibly) assisting with funding of Croydon Tech City itself and/or start-up companies (business rate reductions etc). In current financial circumstances this would need to be done within existing budgets.
    6. Let’s also ask Tech City themselves if they have other suggestions.