I had a really interesting meeting last week with people from the creative industries around the Clapham Junction and Battersea area.
The focus was on an idea framed around the website siliconjunction.co.uk (so called in reference to tech hubs Silicon Valley in California and Silicon Roundabout in Old Street, East London). At its core, the webspace is intended to become a network where local creative businesses can join forces in order to pitch for high-end contracts usually too large to approach individually.
In a recent piece in the FT, Tim Bradshaw wrote of how tech companies around Silicon Roundabout are pulling together and using their proximity to a total benefit that is greater than the sum of their parts – clustering alone, he said, without collaboration, seems a wasted opportunity (you can watch a video from the FT on this here).
The same principal applies around the Junction. For example, a small company with specific web-based skills can collaborate with another which specialises in video production to meet the requirements demanded by clients.
The Southwark Health Factor project illustrates this working in practice. The simple web page (powered by Flavors.me) features quality video, social media and 13 individual Posterous blog feeds – many of which are written by people who have never blogged before.
The result is an online / offline initiative (in collaboration with a local authority) that sees people losing weight whilst learning valuable technological skills. The two companies who worked together to produce this project are based in Battersea and Fulham.
The benefits of this approach seem plentiful. Of the most significant; it helps build real-life bonds between local entrepreneurs, foster a creative and innovative environment, raises the profile of the area (see recent media focus on Silicon Roundabout following the $40m sale of Tweetdeck to Twitter) and keeps as much of the project in the local economy as possible.
So where does local government fit in with this?
Interestingly, the idea of Silicon Junction emerged from a local government initiative – a couple of creative industry events organised through LB Wandsworth, one in particular by the then Mayor of Wandsworth (@PiersMcC) who was keen to do something with local entrepreneur. As someone pointed out to me, a good lesson itself of how a truly civic position can bring people together which will result in a positive outcome.
Asked what they wanted from the council, the local entrepeneurs’ answer was not money, instead it was
– high speed broadband
– the easing of visa restrictions (albeit a national issue)
– making more buildings in the borough available on short-term leases to startups to encourage growth
Such a project then, to me, feels like a wonderful coming together of the current political, economic and technological environments. Driven by the private sector it is innovative, entrepreneurial and collaborative with genuine potential for economic growth whilst building civic capital.
In the foreward to BIS’s “Blueprint for Technology”, David Cameron writes
“We recognise the need to develop an attractive environment for start-up technology firms which can match the best in the world. We need to ensure that we have both the right environment for technology businesses today, and that we are capable of nurturing the technology businesses of tomorrow”.
This raises some interesting questions for local authorities. With the planned repatriation of business rates under the Local Government Resource Review, local economic growth will become an even bigger priority for councils, and the creative industries are currently recognised to be an important driver of growth in the UK economy.
At the same time, the General Power of Competence, the removal of the central performance regime and other planning provisions within the Localism Bill, will give councils more freedom to pursue innovative ways to promote a thriving local economy.
At present, as the entrepreneurs in Wandsworth noted, council processes can be bureaucratic, time-consuming and stifling for small businesses. Local authorities could play a vital role in removing such barriers if they are open to re-thinking their approach to regeneration. If it offers the right incentives, the Resource Review could provide the catalyst to allow local authorities to consider their economic ambitions for their area; including how they can best encourage the creative sector to grow at a local level, and what they can do to remove obstacles to its development.
NB: For general interest – Wandsworth is near the beginning of a huge regeneration project. The Nine Elms development “anticipates up to 16,000 new homes and 25,000 new jobs will be created as this prime site (from Battersea Power Station to Vauxhall Bridge) is transformed into a world class residential and business quarter”. There’s a decent video, with an introduction from Boris Johnson, here. Even more reason then for LB Wandsworth to nurture the local creative industries.
This piece was co-authored by Rob Dale and Lauren Lucas