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Renew Party's candidate for Mayor of London, Kam Balayev, wants to accelerate London's digital economy by championing the fintech sector, and capitalising on opportunities inadvertently offered by the Covid-19 pandemic. We talk to him about how a London of the future might look:
How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed us digitally?
Digital technology is now second nature. From people in older age groups embracing Zoom to the ubiquity of smartphones, content streaming, websites and apps, digital tech is deeply embedded into our daily lives. The coronavirus pandemic has speeded up this process.
Which are the digital sectors this pandemic has inadvertently aided?
It sped up the digital transformation of the health and education sectors.
Online consultations have helped keep GP surgeries safe and ensured access to treatment for vulnerable people. Home learning for school children and university students has gone from being a marginal practice to completely commonplace. The potential for these two vital sectors to embrace digital solutions is huge, and London's expanding tech sector can help facilitate this shift further.
Which other key sectors should we be using more tech in?
A key component in any city offer to new investors is safety. Rising crime, particularly violent crime, is a huge concern for Londoners. In fact it's the issue of most concern to residents after healthcare.
By using the latest digital technologies, divisive stop and search techniques can be replaced, while still ensuring that knives are taken off our streets. What works in London can then be exported to other UK cities and across the world.
And what about the struggling businesses - what's your advice to them?
Of course, many industries have suffered badly. In particular, the last few months have provided a reality check for those who have been reluctant to embrace the digital economy. With so much uncertainty, it's digitally agile businesses and countries that will be better placed to prosper.
So how important is London in this digital shift?
London is at the forefront of the UK's digital economy. For example, it has played a pioneering role in cyber-law. And the English language is a key advantage - overwhelmingly the language of choice for global tech companies. The city also contains huge numbers of highly skilled and ambitious bilingual people. London has the potential to become a global hub where ambitious tech entrepreneurs want to be based. But the competition from other cities is fierce.
How do you think London can achieve these bold ambitions?
There's a gap in the market.
Silicon Valley is a place for ambitious start-ups, but thanks to tech giants like Google and Facebook, the market has grown more insular. It can be difficult for start-ups to find a foothold, as small and medium-sized businesses are priced out. That's where London comes in: a new 'silicon centre' that incubates the tech giants of the future. Innovative, exciting start-ups, growing businesses and emerging giants could flock to the city if it creates an attractive environment, with the right infrastructure in place to support them.
There's been much controversy surrounding tech and politics. Can tech actually change democracy for the better?
A forward-looking, digitally pioneering country needs and deserves an electoral system that works. Participatory budgets, e-petitions and citizen assemblies would all hand real power to citizens.