MPs put political differences aside during debate over Croydon’s Tech City


MPs Steve Reed and Gavin Barwell discussed the technology cluster.


By Jaskaran Bahia

The future of Croydon’s Tech City was debated by two of the borough’s MPs last night as part of a special event at the Croydon Conference Centre.

Labour MP for Croydon North, Steve Reed, and Conservative MP for Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, were in agreement for many of the issues facing the borough’s tech cluster.

There was cross-party support for developing Tech City but that it should be focused on a local rather than national level.

Mr Barwell said: “One of the things I admire is the fact that Croydon Tech City is that has been set up by the people not the government.”

Divisions were shown when national policies were raised – the MPs traded barbs about the Conservatives’ spending priorities and Labour’s record supporting businesses, but such disagreements were few.

Mr Reed said: “Sometimes we do work together, Gavin will play good cop to my bad cop to get things done.”

Both politicians stressed that they would like to see more commitment from Croydon Council to technology startups, saying that, while they would help in any way they could, direction should be taken from the community.

However Mr Reed said he would support public investment into the technology hub, as well as private.

Despite the calls for more support of the cluster there remain some concerns over the growth of the sector.

James Holdon, CEO of Mobile Healthcare Networks, said: “Whilst Croydon would benefit from further growth of a technology sector, I am afraid that the present borough community could see little direct benefit from such economic activity.

“Education in Croydon has typically not produced graduates suitable for the technology industry.”

Education was one of the key topics discussed, with both MPs emphasising the need for broader and more adaptable teaching methods for technology.

Mr Barwell said: “What we need is a system that allows for innovation, for people to try different things, and it won’t always work, but it will allow people to pick up good ideas quicker.”

Mr Barwell suggested a free technology school could be established to encourage young people.

Schools were also the topic of one of the more feisty exchanges of the evening where Mr Reed expressed the need to improve Croydon’s under performing institutions.

Mr Barwell countered that only one school, one in Mr Reed’s constituency, is actually failing and that his statistics were flawed.

In a diverse questions segment Paul Barnett, Director of ICUK web hosting company, mentioned how his fast growing company was beginning to plateau due to a lack of young developers.

Marc Roberts, co-founder of web-developer Neutron Creations, is working to spread a school programme called Code Club, teaching 9-11 year-olds coding, a venture that gained support both from the MPs and those in attendance.

“Technology focused programmes such as Code Club and spaces such as Matthews Yard are a great way to ensure that the local community will benefit, by helping to rectify the shortfall in education as well as serving as melting pots for community endeavour,” said Mr Holdon.

The other main theme of the evening was that of funding and encouraging start-up.

Mr Reed called for Croydon to follow in Lambeth’s footsteps and establish rent-free working space in underdeveloped areas.

Moreover, he advocated German and United States-style community banks, saying they have been shown to be more willing to lend.

Meanwhile, Mr Barwell emphasised the importance of building links with venture capitalists.

Moderator Nigel Dias, Croydon Tech City’s Head of Partnerships and Investment, ended the debate at 9 p.m. to allow attendees and entrepreneurs to interact with each other and Mr Barwell after the event.

Croydon Tech City holds an event for entrepreneurs and start-ups at Mathews Yard on the penultimate Thursday every month.

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