Business Management

Rant: A Modest Proposal to Reboot London

In this space last week, I suggested that (among other issues the city faces) London doesn’t do enough to serve its business people, be they resident or visiting. When lefter-than-thou, shouty devisor of pub-bully arguments Ken Livingstone was Mayor, that was unsurprising. Now that classics-quoting, righter-than-thou Boris Johnson holds sway, it is perhaps surprising. But there it is, the Tweedledum-Tweedledee pairing of newt-fancier and distrait toff have somehow met in the inert middle. Between them, they hold some responsibility for the current gallimaufry/mulligatawny/dog’s dinner of London infrastructure, along with Government and other (dread word) stakeholders.  

Patchy Wi-Fi, awful transport, not enough places to plug in devices and charge them up… the list is long. It’s easy to mock, of course, and harder to correct. So, in the style of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, let’s try out a few ideas.

Free Wi-Fi - Getting an internet connection in London is a hit-and-miss affair. Coating the capital with a strong signal could be quite easily achieved with the appropriate sponsorship and the Boris Bikes (ugh) scheme has shown how popular such a tactic can be. Google is already doing the same for California and fast connectivity should be treated as a basic utility but one that is provided gratis.

Slim London down - Last week I argued that London is not as attractive as she likes to think. Many of us are only here because we need to be and we need to be because Government takes an obscenely narrow view of where to locate itself and key amenities. Move Whitehall jobs to Liverpool, cede some of our world-class museums to Leeds, do anything to stop the quart-in-pint-pot craziness of having a huge city in a small country.

Flick big switches in transport - HS2 fares should be heavily discounted to encourage longer-distance commuting, and businesses returning to towns and cities on the route. Freeze London fares for five years as the beginnings of a righting of serial wrongs. Make airport-to-city transport free via sponsorship, rather than the smack-in-the-face ‘welcome’ we currently provide.

Open state-sponsored shared workspaces - Fatbuck Coffee Chain doesn’t want us to spend 90 minutes over their awful product so we can use their bandwidth and surreptitiously plug in the laptop. We don’t like Fatbuck because it pays not much tax so let’s make our own coffee and turn derelict pubs, discarded libraries and the like into third spaces with plenty of sockets where we can feed the caffeine habit and get some work done. Think of a modernised Timothy Leary: pop out, plug in, hook up. And build the things everywhere in the country: goodness knows we have the high-street space available.

Hire smart people - Politicians are usually mediocre, pie-faced people that haven’t done very much, making them not overly fit for purpose when it comes to managing complex projects or, you know, thinking about stuff. Draft in smart people like former Whitehall CIO Jerry Fishenden, Dave Coplin at Microsoft, Mike Tobin at Telecity and Graham Palmer at Intel on secondment and give them free rein. Where they’ve worked, it’s not considered OK to be useless or slow so the chances of success already rise, says, 25,000%.

Be accountable. Hold a 30-minute update once a month then take public questions for the same amount of time. Chairman: Dimbleby or somebody else that isn’t an MP just showing up for public inquiries for the sandwiches and airtime. Make project timelines public.

Daft? Unachievable? Unrealistic? Possibly. But as anybody who has attempted to work in London knows, these are desperate times, and desperate remedies are required.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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