#Croydon #TechCity: The politicians’ view

By - Tuesday 15th April, 2014

Those who came to Croydon Tech City’s special politicians’ debate baying for blood may have been sorely disappointed by the ‘bromance’ that emerged on stage at the Croydon Conference Centre.

Photo by Fluid4Sight. Used with permission.

Though Labour MP for Croydon North Steve Reed and Gavin Barwell, the Tory MP for Croydon Central, may have plenty to argue about on a national scale, their support and admiration for Croydon Tech City leaves little to be discussed. The pair opened with a 10 minute speech each, answering questions set out for the by the evening’s Dimbleby, Nigel Dias, reflecting Britain’s place in the world, Croydon’s place in the European tech scene, and the problems with tech education in Britain.

Reed’s opening comments reflected his period as council leader in Lambeth, where they reinvigorated Brixton market through a social enterprise scheme that saw startups get space for free and then opt to pay once they were making money. He was keen to stress community – whether that be through community banking schemes or the public and private sectors working more cohesively to back the exciting venture that is Croydon Tech City. He also backed tech education and the need to ‘home grow’ talent not just bring people in from other countries.

Barwell’s speech was by contrast a stats spectacular. He was practical, giving a nod to the need for high speed broadband nationwide and also mentioning the macroeconomics of the UK. He admired that Croydon Tech City has sprung up organically without the need for government involvement and looked ahead to the future – a CTC free school? All possible, says Barwell. As the MPs went head to head, in a chance to challenge each other on the issues raised, it was this point that was the only stickler. How were free schools to be fairly funded, challenged Reed, and how would we deal with the many failing schools in Croydon? Barwell supported the idea of devolving schools to those more able to deal with the rapid changes in the tech world and refuted the idea that Croydon’s schools were a problem – indeed only one, and in Reed’s constituency, is failing at all.

Regeneration needs to be part of something bigger than a shopping centre, and Croydon’s reputation is worse than the town itself

Questions from the floor opened a range of topics up both to the MPs and to Croydon Tech City’s team. The event drew a wide range of people, but tech-focused questions included a point from Bieneosa Ebite on the need to spread wealth created by Tech City throughout the borough; the development of teacher training and tech education reforms; Paul Barnett’s distress over the quality of the job centre; and what we could do to regenerate Croydon beyond some offices and shops. Reed was happy to report that he and Barwell regularly played ‘good cop, bad cop’ to get results and would work together to ensure wealth from CTC goes far and wide. He acknowledged the need for a cultural offering across Croydon to give it the ‘buzz’ that Shoreditch enjoys, something which also stems from a community that cares about its environment (litter klaxon). Barwell picked up on the job centre point, reporting that the government has localised the job centres in many areas and he would like to see it happen in Croydon too. Regeneration, he said, needs to be part of something bigger than a shopping centre, and Croydon’s reputation is worse than the town itself. By focusing on its positive points, such as relative affordability, we can generate this.

Though Steve Reed had to shoot off (his car was on a meter), Gavin Barwell told me that he appreciated the chance to address the Croydon Tech City crowd and that he had learnt from being there. Both he and Reed have stressed that help from politicians must be on Tech City’s terms – after all it was not a government venture – but they have extended their own help. As Croydon Tech City continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how they, and the local council, interact with it.

Croydon Tech City – Thursday 17th April 7:30pm – Financial tech startup special

To attend this Thursday’s Croydon Tech City event at Matthews Yard, please sign up as ‘attending’ here or  to confirm your attendance.

Photo by Fluid4Sight. Used with permission.

Photo by Fluid4Sight. Used with permission.

Becca Taylor

Becca Taylor

Becca is a newcomer to South London, currently living in Sutton and working in Purley, as ICUK.net's Head of Marketing. She has a background in politics and journalism, and is slowly learning the ropes in the tech world. A graduate of Swansea University, Becca is also a keen fitness enthusiast and a proud fan of Southampton FC.

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