London Mayor race 2016

Exclusive: Mayoral hopeful Sadiq Khan on Uber, Google & escaping Corbyn’s shadow

By Oliver Smith 10 February 2016

The Memo sat down with the Labour's London front-runner in an exclusive interview last night.

Last night London’s five mayoral candidates took part in a gruelling panel debate in front of an audience of 1,000 of the City’s most passionate tech enthusiasts.

DebateTech, an event hosted by Russ Shaw’s tech advocacy group Tech London Advocates, techUK and Centre for London, and held at Here East in East London, saw the five hopefuls spar over issues from London’s tech skills shortage to the lack of women and diversity in the tech sector.

There was no clear winner at the end of the night, all five had pledged to appoint a Chief Digital Officer for the city and most had shown they knew, as Labour candidate Sadiq Khan put it “my FTTP from my HTTP”.

Read Alex Wood’s take on DebateTech: Our politicians can’t afford to ignore the future

After the public show came to a close The Memo sat down with Khan to cut through the buzzwords, and see how the Labour challenger would deal with Uber, Google’s tax avoidance and escaping the stigma around Jeremy Corbyn.

There’s been a lot of talk about Google’s tax deal with the Government, on Monday Google raised the pay of its CEO Sundar Pichai to £138m, that’s more than the £130m Google has agreed to pay the Treasury in back taxes since 2005.

What would your approach be to big companies like Google who engage in this behaviour?

People should pay the tax they’re supposed to pay, it’s up to us in parliament to make sure we close any loopholes so it’s very difficult to avoid paying tax.

I’ve not seen the minutiae of the profits Google has made or the deal made between HMRC and Google.

Those on the select committee are now asking questions and it’s important that both George Osborne and Google answer those questions.

The way I see it is very simple, entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs all work their socks off and pay their taxes. They’re working their socks off and multinationals that appear to be flouting the rules, so it’s important that parliament conducts the inquiry and enough tax is being paid.

During DebateTech Khan described himself as a “bigger salesman than Boris” for London, promoting the capital around the world, stimulating investment and trade.

But which cities and countries specifically would you look to forge closer links with?

There will be nowhere excluded from my attempts to draw in, not just skills, but investment in London.

I think the 10 fastest growing cities in the world, those above 10 million people, all 10 are in China. So we can’t simply rely on the Berlins and the Tokyos, we’ve got to think about the Indian and Chinese cities that are doing really well.

Yes these are cash rich countries that can invest in London, but these are also cities that we should be doing business with.

One of the firm promises Khan made during the DebateTech panel was a pledge to limit the number of private hire vehicles (minicabs) in London, in response to the growth of Uber and also the congestion, air pollution and safety impact of so many vehicles. But there are a number of problems with such a policy, so…

With Uber controlling a huge amount of the nearly 100,000 minicabs in London now, how do you cap minicabs them without giving Uber an unfair advantage in the market?

I’ll be exploring all options, because there will soon be hundreds of thousands of private hire vehicles if we’re not careful.

We talk about the London black cab being iconic, but the number of people doing the knowledge has fallen for the first time, so the viability of the black taxi is now under question.

What we have to do is limit the number of private hire vehicles in London, because right now there is no cap or limit. Every year it’s gone up by 12,000 over the past three years and we’ve got to do something about it.

There are things you can do indirectly around the congestion charge, or there are things you can do directly.

One of the things we can talk about doing is put a limit on the number of PHV which can be registered each year, that could be one way around it, or another way could be in relation to an [additional] cost which would place a soft cap [on private hire vehicles].

Once I’m safely in post I’ll be looking at the powers I have to do something about that.

There’s debate, not just about, but within the sharing economy. With Airbnb and its users benefitting from the Rent a Room tax allowance (a historical anomaly that lets people earn £4,250 from renting their spare rooms, tax free) some businesses are calling for this to be extended to cover car rentals, car parking spot rentals and more.

Do you think a ‘sharing economy tax allowance’ should be introduced?

HMRC haven’t been good historically at keeping abreast of how fast things are moving. I think it’s one of the things HMRC need to look into.

The phrase we often use is a race to the bottom because [through] peer-to-peer stuff, people are going around regulation and rules… and it’s leading to not enough taxes being paid or not enough checks being taken.

I think HMRC will wise up to these issues, I look forward to them catching up with the innovation.

During DebateTech Khan said he would be the “most business-friendly” mayor London had ever seen. But with Jeremy Corbyn seen by many as the least business-friendly Labour leader in recent memory…

How would you shake shake off the perception, from the Corbyn camp, that you are in fact anti-business?

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t on the ballot paper on 5 May, nor is David Cameron or Boris Johnson.

With the greatest respect to all the other candidates, it’s either going to be [Zac] Goldsmith or me, and so what I’d say to your readers is look at my experience.

I’ve helped run a successful business, I’ve made tough decisions in Govt as a minister, look at the vision I’ve got for London.

I’m going to be an unashamedly pro-business Mayor, so just compare and contrast my CV and my experience to Goldsmith’s.

London’s Mayor Election is taking place on 5 May 2016.