Innovation happens when the government stays clear

Andrew Boff

May 30, 2019

This is the transcript of a speech delivered by Andrew Boff. It took place at the UK edition of the Free Market Road Show 2019 hosted by 1828 and the Austrian Economics Center.

I’m Andrew Boff, member of the London Assembly. I’m a failed politician, and I’m rather intimidated by this panel here because they’ve all worked very hard, been to university, and written books in order to be here.

The only reason I’m here is that I’ve had an awful lot of cheese, an awful lot of wine, and pretended to like an awful lot of people – that’s how I became a politician.

There is a danger with regard to automation, innovation, and the government. The first danger is when the government tries to suppress innovation. The second danger is when the government tries to encourage innovation.

First of all, when it tries to suppress innovation we get ludicrous decisions like Sadiq Khan’s decision to charge 40,000 Uber drivers in the congestion charge zone and the newly created “ultra-low emissions zone” on the basis of improving air quality.

But he doesn’t charge the black cab drivers. I’m sorry, but do you not realise, Mr Khan, that a diesel-pumping black cab destroys the environment much more than a Prius does?

Then the government decides that innovation is rather good, rather interesting. And we get situations where, for example, we spent £30m on London and Partners, which is an organisation to promote investment in new technology in London. Because without that £30m to promote London, who would know where London was? What a marvellous expenditure of taxpayers money.

Record knife crime on the streets, but at least people know where we are.

And it’s not just socialists. The reason I started by saying that I was a failed politician is that I failed to persuade Boris Johnson that the “Boris bike” scheme could easily have been done by the free market. He told us all that it wouldn’t cost any money, that it would pay for itself.

£200m later, we’re still paying £11m per year for the scheme, despite all the other free-market choices on offer that we don’t have to pay for. They decide they like technology and innovation, but they can’t stop spending public money on it.

And one of the biggest obscenities to illustrate this is what we’re currently seeing over on the Olympic site, another project I didn’t support. £9bn of taxpayers’ money spent, but I’m told: “Andrew, it was a really good Olympics for us, we did terribly well, and we had such a great time!”

You give me £9bn, and I’ll show you a good time.

We’ve also now got “Tech City”. Tech City was originally a bunch of firms in Shoreditch that, because of a crap local council, realised they didn’t need planning permission for all their expansions. Hackney council was so wonderfully incompetent that innovation bloomed and we saw it happening before our eyes.

Tech City is supposedly where all the new innovations are going to take place. For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, it’s like Silicon Valley, but with lots of taxpayers’ money going into it, and it’s a little bit shit. The reason it’s a little bit shit is that we’re paying for it. Innovation happens when government takes its hands off it.

Boris also didn’t accept my other proposal to him, and I’ve proposed it every year since, when we in the London Assembly have to authorise the “economic strategy document of the Greater London Authority”.

Every year, I suggest that we have only one page, and on that page should be written: “This page intentionally left blank.”


  • Andrew Boff

    Andrew Boff is a member of the London Assembly and rapporteur for the "the role and responsibilities of local government in protecting LGBTI+ persons" for the Congress of the Council of Europe.

Written by Andrew Boff

Andrew Boff is a member of the London Assembly and rapporteur for the "the role and responsibilities of local government in protecting LGBTI+ persons" for the Congress of the Council of Europe.


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