It seems ironic that within the same week that David Cameron was announcing that East London is to be the UK’s ‘Silicon Valley’, three quarters of staff at the London Development Agency were given notice of redundancy.
East London has, or had, been a priority for the LDA for a number of years, and huge effort has gone into fostering business growth and, not at all unconnected, investing in regeneration and local skills projects. If East London is now a place where business wants to move, then due recognition needs to be placed at the door of the LDA, and other public sector partners who – in various different ways – have helped to make London east of Old Street Roundabout a good place to live and do business.
Of course, it’s not all down to the public sector. Business was moving east long before the LDA came into existence. Adventurous creative businesses seeking out new environments (with cheap rents to boot) were followed close behind by less-adventurous and slightly more unscrupulous property developers and estate agents. But the vast majority of the former will simply have disappeared, had it not been for the foresight of local authority planning and regeneration departments, protecting opportunities for local business development, and supporting investment in creative workspace, business support and skills programmes.
Creative London, for example, identified a series of ‘Creative Hubs’ across the capital, and supported locally-driven creative business partnerships in places such as Shoreditch, Stratford and Deptford – incentivising other public and private sector partners to support business growth.
Creative London also played a significant part in ensuring that there was a firm, written, commitment to creative and cultural legacy on the 2012 bidding document. The chance of sustaining a creative cluster on the site of the International Broadcast Centre has appeared increasingly difficult over recent years – but the commitment remains, and Cameron’s speech made that clear.
So, in many senses, David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt and others are following a long, and strong, line of activity in East London – and the various initiatives they announced last week are to be welcomed.
But it would be very naive of them to think that the level of activity they describe can be sustained without the active input and support of the public sector.