We spoke with Rajesh Agrawal, the deputy mayor of London for Business about his – and London mayor Sadiq Khan’s – approach to technology and innovation.
Born in India in 1977, Agrawal is a honed entrepreneur and philanthropist who in 2005 founded FinTech firm RationalFx. Since then, the company has gone on to transfer over $5bn, claiming to be the first UK forex broker to provide an online payment system.
As deputy mayor Agrawal aims to be a strong voice for London’s business community, protecting jobs and growth, and ensuring that the capital remains the most open and attractive place to do business in the world.
Here’s what he had so say about innovation happening in the capital and across the rest of the UK.
Q: The Mayor wants to see London become the “world’s leading smart city” and announced plans for a £1.6m clean technology incubator that will seek to counteract pollution and climate change. What other measures are being put in place to drive innovation in this area and how can technology startups and scaleups capitalise on these opportunities?
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The mayor of London has recently appointed Theo Blackwell as London’s first chief digital officer, fulfilling a key manifesto commitment. Theo will play a leading role in realising the mayor’s ambition to make London the world’s smartest city, ensuring that the capital’s status as a global tech hub helps transform the way public services are designed and delivered, making them more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners.
The mayor is supporting Sharing Cities, a €25 million partnership between London and several cities across Europe. The programme uses data and low carbon technologies to reduce energy demand and is currently testing smart home heating controls in Greenwich together with a cloud-based platform. Our modelling suggests smart energy platforms could cut energy demand by up to 20% and, if successful, the solutions will be made available to startups and scaleups so they can benefit too.
Q: What other technologies are you seeking to harness to improve the lives of the capital’s citizens and why?
At City Hall we’re laying the groundwork to improve digital services across London – this will be an important part of Blackwell’s remit when he starts in his new role. Blackwell will work with all parts of London’s tech sector to understand how their innovations can benefit Londoners.
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We are studying how sharing information and resources via the cloud can help London’s dynamic tech sector develop new applications. We want services that are ‘built once and shared often’ across the public sectors, which will benefit Londoners and generate returns for tech businesses.
Q: In your opinion, is there enough cross-sector collaboration between the private and public spheres to ensure that London, and the UK, remain at the forefront of innovation?
The mayor is keen to foster these collaborations, which have the potential to make public services more effective, and this is something the chief digital officer will look at.
We are building on some strong foundations, including our own data-sharing portal ‘London Datastore’, as well as other initiatives such as London Ventures, an innovative programme run by London Councils, on behalf of London’s boroughs, which harnesses the innovation and commercial approach of the private sector to meet some of London local government’s key challenges.
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Q: How will you work together with London’s CDO to ensure London continues to drive innovation?
The mayor, Blackwell and I want to take the digital transformation of our public services to the next level, so we can improve the ways in which we plan and deliver public services for Londoners.
Our CDO will lead on promoting growth in the sector as well as taking responsibility for increasing digital inclusion across our city and leading on cybersecurity.
Khan wants digital technology at the heart of making the capital an even better place to live, work and invest. Fulfilling a manifesto commitment, the new CDO will be tasked with ensuring that London’s globally renowned reputation for technological innovation is used to transform the way that public services are delivered in London, making them more accessible, efficient, and better suited to the needs of Londoners.
Q: What are the main challenges of implementing technological innovation in a city such as London and how are you planning to overcome them?
The mayor is working to overcome the challenges facing London’s tech sector and take advantage of the innovative work happening in our city.
He has launched a Digital Talent Programme, which will support young Londoners form diverse backgrounds into tech careers. Kahn is also improving London’s connectivity by tackling ‘notspots’, ensuring better access to public sector property for digital infrastructure, and treating digital infrastructure as any other key public utility.
Q: What other technology-driven initiatives across the world could be imported into London and why?
The mayor is promoting London’s tech sector at home and abroad. Later this year he is launching the London Tech Investor Showcase to provide support to innovative companies seeking investment. Last year, a delegation of 30 companies from his International Business Programme met potential investors in Chicago and New York.
London’s unique governmental structure means City Hall’s focus is on developing initiatives, instead of simply importing them. For example, last year we piloted the London Office of Data Analytics (based on a similar scheme in New York) to establish a city-wide approach to data management and analytics. Instead of one city authority, as in New York, our scheme managed the data-sharing relationship of six boroughs (in order to find landlords contravening the law and send enforcement offices to investigate).