London: the new Silicon Valley?

New York’s Mayor sees the capital as the biggest threat to his city as a global technology hub, thanks to its huge talent pool. But some are warning the UK to beware the strength of competition, says Gideon Spanier

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg delighted the UK’s creative industries this week when he let slip he sees London, not Silicon Valley in California, as the biggest threat to his city as a global technology hub. “He’s recognising what’s been happening here for some time,” says Joanna Shields, the chief executive of Tech City, the UK government agency set up in 2010 to promote London as a tech hub.

A rich cultural heritage and a strong talent pool have always made the UK a fertile place to build a creative business. Now high levels of broadband and smartphone penetration, plus an afterglow from the 2012 Olympics, are accelerating Britain’s advantage, at least compared with the rest of Europe.

It is understood Mr Bloomberg’s favourable comments about London have been noted by David Cameron, who has promoted the creative and tech sectors as an engine of economic growth, with initiatives like tax breaks for high-end TV drama and animation and the launch of Tech City. Creative industries are already growing at twice the rate of the UK economy.

“One of the strengths of the British economy is our creative industries but also our sense of innovation,” Mr Cameron told a roomful of creative bosses, entrepreneurs and investors at London’s National Portrait Gallery as part of this week’s Technology Innovators’ Forum (Tif-in).

“The creative industries are already 6 per cent of the economy. I think we can go further and faster,”  added Mr Cameron, who reeled off “five fantastic facts” about UK creative industries such as the fact Harry Potter has been translated into 72 languages. Tif-in, which was organised by the Government’s UK Trade & Investment and Founders’ Forum, a group of entrepreneurs led by founder Brent Hoberman and Lepe Partners banker Johnnie Goodwin, is a recognition that the future of Britain’s creative industries lies in digital.

As Lucian Grainge, the British boss of the world’s biggest music company Universal Music and a key backer of Tif-in, told the business leaders: “Digital development is absolutely fundamental and key to all of our futures.”

An earlier UKTI-Founders’ Forum event in February in Los Angeles resulted in £60m of deals between UK start-ups and investors and Mr Grainge, who is based in LA, is optimistic: “From my vantage point in California, the power of British content has a completely disproportionate effect on the digital economy and therefore the entire global content economy.” But he also injected a sense of urgency, noting digital meant huge disruption as well as opportunity.

Tim Davie, the chief executive of BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s £1bn-a-year commercial arm, sounded a similar, sober note at Tif-in. While championing the Beeb as a global brand, Mr Davie urged UK creative businesses to be “healthily, obsessively paranoid about the dangers of falling behind” and pointed out: “If you look at the top content websites around the world, you see the huge dominance of US and Asian sites and very few UK and European brands.” He went on: “We’re light. We should be worried. We’re too defined by history.”

He is right there are few global British tech companies to compare with, say, Google and China’s Baidu or TV networks to rival Disney or Discovery. What’s more, the fast-growing Latin American economies will soon offer new competition.

Some critics in the City have also complained London is a bad place to float a tech company compared with New York, with London mobile games company, the maker of Candy Crush Saga, among those eyeing a US float. But opinions are shifting as Mr Bloomberg’s comments show. The London Stock Exchange has relaxed listing rules for “high-growth” companies and, in a symbolic step, Tech City’s Ms Shields this week announced the Future Fifty, a hot list of tech firms that could soon be floated.

Property website Zoopla, taxi-booking app Hailo and Moshi Monsters creator Mind Candy were among the first 25 companies named in the Future Fifty. Tech City and the LSE will provide a “concierge service” for the companies to consider their options. It was “borne out of a recognition we’ve got to do more to nurture this special class of high-growth companies”, says ex-Facebook executive Ms Shields.

So, despite the caveats, there was optimism at Tif-in about London and the UK. “The talent pool is greater than any other city I’ve come across,” declared South African-born Anthony Rose, the co-founder of London social-media TV app Zeebox, while Sir Howard Stringer, the former boss of Japan’s Sony, said there is “a sense of resurgence” in London.

Mr Goodwin of Founders’ Forum did not believe London has to succeed at New York’s expense as both cities are financial and media capitals which can serve as a “gateway to Silicon Valley”.

It says a lot that when Mr Bloomberg retires as Mayor in January, he is said to want to spend a lot of his time in London.

David Cameron’s ‘five fabulous facts’ on  UK creative industries’ global reach:

* The Happy Potter books have been translated into 72 languages

* ‘Phanton of the Opera’ has  been produced in 151 cities and  30 countries

* The world’s top-selling album  has been by a British artist in five  of the last six years

* Three out of the world’s five most visited art museums are in London

* The last Oscar won by a Briton was by a Brit playing a US President

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all