Milo Yiannopoulos wonders if the Tech City Investment Organisation’s days are numbered now that tougher questions are being asked about its performance.
Over the past few weeks, there have been signs that UKTI’s strategy in east London might be about to change. It’s even possible, in my view, that the Tech City Investment Organisation could be shuttered – sooner, rather than later.
For one thing, TCIO chief executive Eric van der Kleij has been dropping hints in interviews and personal conversations that his work may be done. Having bagged LeWeb for London, and several other comparably big announcements that he says are in the bag and to be revealed shortly, he may feel that he has achieved enough of his goals to start winding the operation down.
At dinner with a Kernel contributor in New York recently, van der Kleij indicated that his extensive campaign to woo bloggers and journalists might also be coming to an end. Aware, perhaps, of the many opportunities for ridicule presented by the quango’s increasingly grandiose claims, its chief executive apparently sees the public relations war as largely won. There’s no need to push it.
That’s not to say Eric has won all his battles. A particularly unedifying squabble is now going on behind the scenes between TCIO and Downing Street, with the Prime Minister’s senior policy advisor Rohan Silva adamant that the “big wins” TCIO has claimed for itself – the entrepreneurs’ visa, lifetime capital gains tax relief, R&D tax credits and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme – are his accomplishments, not Tech City’s.
That raises the uncomfortable question of what Tech City is actually for, if its input into central Government policy is minimal or irrelevant. Even the most well-disposed observers would, I think, baulk at a £1.7 million publicly-funded annual budget for what is essentially a small (and reliably incompetent) PR firm.
If the brewing war between Silva and van der Kleij spills over into outright conflict, that would be bad news for Tech City, since although its budget is delivered via UKTI (itself jointly supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign Office), without a friendly ear inside No. 10 the quango’s influence will be severely diminished and its future called into question.
Tech City’s ability to call on David Cameron for flashy public announcements would also evaporate, though perhaps that shouldn’t surprise us, since Cameron has repeatedly told interviewers that he considers the M4 corridor, and not east London, to be the UK’s Silicon Valley.
It’s not just Cameron. Entrepreneurs, investors and others in London are getting braver about speaking their mind on the record. Those heady days of adulation and Buckingham Palace invitations have evaporated, giving way to a much more sceptical environment in which the people Tech City purports to represent are suddenly asking awkward questions.
A detailed and admirably even-handed assessment of Tech City by Wired.co.uk’s associate editor Olivia Solon was published on Friday. It is significant because it represents the first substantial piece of reporting on Tech City that does not simply take UKTI’s press releases at face value – something Wired’s editor, David Rowan, has been guilty of in the past. Solon’s exegesis puts much of the Financial Times’s reporting to shame – to say nothing of TechCrunch.
If Tech City is to be shuttered, the emerging technology community has just cause to feel short-changed. The quango has failed to effect change in many crucial areas, not least in making it easier for entrepreneurs to import talent from overseas. It also, inexplicably, missed out on having east London classified as an Enterprise Zone.
Then there are the criticisms, neatly laid out by Solon on the basis of work done by The Kernel, about TCIO’s dodgy salary arrangements, which are designed to avoid freedom of information requests, and its (unfortunately successful) attempt to rebrand Silicon Roundabout as Tech City. But we have spoken about all these at length already.
Rohan Silva’s judgment of Tech City’s progress so far – which appears to be as much a verdict on van der Kleij’s stewardship as anything else – is “C- to B+”, according to Solon. He is too generous. Then again, if what I’m sensing is correct, that may not matter for much longer.