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Say 'No' to Tech City

Posted in by Andy Bell on 16 September 2011

There's been much recent sniping about Tech City. Most of the criticism has focused on the cost of the website. As I see it, there are two bigger problems:

The name

It takes a special type of government idiocy to attempt to replace the phrase Silicon Roundabout with Tech City.

Silicon Roundabout has a nice touch of British self-deprecation. It captures something of the place, centered as it is, on a grimey old roundabout. It is slipping into widespread usage, from The Economist to The Sun.

Tech City could be anywhere. If I had to guess, I'd imagine the outskirts of Doha or Shenzhen. It combines a linguistic tone-deafness with a whiff of compromise to suggest it was invented by a committee of people who don't speak English fluently. It's prematurely dated like an old Sci-Fi film.

Introducing a new name for basically the same place will, at best, be ignored. At worst, it creates confusion.

The idea

It is brilliant for the UK if a technology cluster is developing. As founder of a firm that recently moved to the area, there's definitely something in the air.

In 1993, T. J. Rogers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, protested to a Congress Subcommittee about Bill Clinton's proposed investment in the 'electronic superhighway':

"We would benefit greatly if billions of taxpayer dollars were showered on the various technology projects favored by the Clinton administration. It would be easy for me to support these projects. But I am here to say that I do not want any subsidies and that the men and women of Cypress do not want subsidies."

It's well worth reading his testimony: High Technology Innovation: Free Markets or Government Subsidies?

The chairman of the committee was surprised and delighted:

"Thank you for coming to Washington to testify before the Subcommittee on Technology, Environment and Aviation. In all my years in Congress I really don't recall Members spontaneously applauding a witness. It is a rare day when we have a witness before us asking government not to get involved. Yesterday was one of those days and, as you could tell, your statement was music to our ears."

As tech entrepreneurs, we should be inspired by T. J. Rogers. Government, leave us alone!

We don't want a culture of chasing grants and buttering up officials. We don't particularly want to encourage Facebook or Cisco to set up here. If they do, that's fine but if they don't that means less competition for great talent (the key resource).

The cluster has arisen spontaneously. It's at a delicate early stage. It's arrogant for the government to believe that its heavy hand can help. The best thing the government can do is get out of our hair and use the money to reduce their funding gap or, if they really want, throw a big party. Actually, I wouldn't trust a government party.

If the government are so convinced that industrial intervention can work (and there's hardly a glittering track record to back that up) please go and pick on somewhere that really needs help, perhaps Dunmurry, home of Delorean, or Longbridge, home of British Leyland, or any other of the parts of the UK that have suffered from industrial policy.

David Cameron came to government promising a bonfire of the Quangos. Here's a new one being created. It is easy to ignore as it seems pretty harmless. The logo is shiny. There's the promise of jobs. There's a sense that this time it is different. But like fat gradually blocking an artery, there's a cumulative effect.

What's ironic is Silicon Roudabout is all about lightweight social technology that makes it less necessary than ever to have a government funded focal point. Initiatives like Silicon Milk Roundabout and TechHub are relevant and nimble and seem to spring up almost spontaneously. Among hundred of events, Mint puts on an annual 2Screen conference and a monthly Ladies Who Code meetup, in our own small way feeding the connectedness and excitement of the place.

The title of this post, 'Say No to Tech City', was intended as a little joke. I doubt there is anything that can be done to stop it. But, for what it's worth, here's one web entrepreneur who thinks its a bad idea.

  1. Default avatar

    Tim Morgan

    25 September, 2011

    Why the Government is right to IntErvene in UK tech startups. Say 'yes' to TechCity: http://not100percentaccurate.com/what-is-tech-city

  2. Default avatar

    John Fox

    10 November, 2011

    Well, it's not like Mr Cameron to go and miss another bandwagon going past. I'm sure they govt may of made some changes to tax relief and other related matters but they didn't seem, to me, to be the things that were going to help 1 or 2 man/lady bands get off the ground. Think you have got it right. By all means celebrate to success and let it continue to grow organically.

  3. Default avatar

    Mark

    10 November, 2011

    In response to your article, I will continue to call it "silicon roundabout".

    Hopefully, I'll move in there one day, too.

  4. Default avatar

    Paul

    10 November, 2011

    This reminds me of the punks from '76, complaining when punk rock went mainstream and you could buy bondage trousers in Carnaby Street. "I was a punk before you was a punk".

  5. Default avatar

    Mike

    10 November, 2011

    The only thing governments ever do is destroy. When they see something going in the right direction, they jump on the bandwagon and claim credit for it. Encouraging the likes of Google and other major corporations to setup there will only help increase property and business costs and drive out the creative people who for many years now have contributed to the area's growth. Areas like this have to keep growing organically on their own accord. Any interference whatsoever from others especially governments will rock the boat. So Mr Cameron and anybody else in his entourage or anybody connected with the government, the only advice I can give you is stay away.

  6. Default avatar

    Andy Bell

    15 November, 2011

    @Paul - you comment would be a fair one if (a) the government had attempting to rebrand Carnaby Street with some clunking title like 'Fashion Avenue Central' and (b) they got involved in the market, creating inducements to do things others than build great businesses that serve customers brilliantly.

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