CityBites podcast: How do we lead now?

For most people working from home since March 2020, life is a rollercoaster propelled by lockdowns and releases, steep learning curves, waves of home-schooling, rising burnout and chaotic policy (this post goes online as the UK locks down for a third time).

In June, 88% of 5,500 surveyed employees said they wanted to continue some form of home working when offices reopen fully (PropelHub). In September, 69% of [US] employees surveyed said they were suffering from burn-out (Forbes – good tips in here).

In this interview, Miffa Salter, founder and director of Urbancanda, talks about the ‘luck’ of being ahead of the curve, the massive shift she’s seen from surge to burnout, and how leaders and learners can make the most of this less-than-ideal world.

Coherent Cities, Future of London and all of our partners are working to continually improve the calibre and feel of our online events, and to see which elements are worth carrying into the working world of the future. Watch this space. For now, hope you enjoy this chat with Miffa as much as I did!

Transcript: CityBites Podcast – Miffa Salter interview 4.12.20


  • Virtues of Virtual, Dr Brennan Jacoby, Philosophy at Work
  • Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat – Blog and podcast from Bruce Daisley: brilliant compendium of fresh thinking on working and leading remotely and what we may see next.
  • FoL’s #LearningFromCrisis resource hub with signposts to a great variety of support and insight.

City Bites Podcast: Digital + Small Business

This episode of the City Bites ‘Connections’ series is on the evolving relationship between digital and small business – including how local government is supporting Small & Medium Enterprises or SMEs.

Across the UK, businesses at all scales have shifted from wholesale to consumer sales, or from ‘B2B’ to ‘B2C’, while people at risk of job losses have been urged to ‘pivot’ their careers.

Some of that is working: While many large-scale sectors wilt and the ONS shows 247,000 fewer people working in June-Sept 2020 than 2019, the Centre for Entrepreneurs reports a record 570,000 start-ups to date this year, with 29% year-on-year growth in September alone. Many are tied directly to pandemic-related health products, but digital has at least a promotional and logistics role there, and a much larger role in services.

Small and micro business feature heavily in those figures and have always been an economic force. In 2019, some 5.9m UK SMEs accounted for £2.2tr in turnover, or half the UK total, and 16m jobs, or 60% of the total [Federation of Small Business].

In a Covid context, they range from shops which can’t stay open or sell online through digital agencies embracing work-from-home to the Amazons and Etsy makers whose businesses are thriving in relative terms.

As Covid’s one-year anniversary rolls into view, some of the questions to address about digital and small business include:

  • Equal citizen access – How do we include everyone in emerging economic and connection opportunities (and do that better than we have in the bricks-and-mortar world)? This is one of London’s Recovery priorities, and it appears across the UK as an issue.
  • Equal commercial access – Making sure small, diverse and locally based tech companies get a crack at government work, currently procured in silos and shared among a small number of very big players. This is one of guest Onyeka Onyekwelu’s projects.
  • Integrating digital into organisational strategy as opposed to having it sit “over in IT”. This has a major learning component, especially since platforms and devices proliferate so fast. How do we communicate with colleagues, customers and communities? Who are we reaching and what can we do with commercial, place-based or other data? To paraphrase speaker Joe Mathewson, if doing things online automatically creates a record, we should be able to streamline and share better.
  • Resilience: As guest Alison Partridge points out, start-up and survival aren’t the same thing. Are there [digital?] ways to share more support and guidance so that 2020’s record number of business births is sustained over the long term?
  • Security: of systems, of Intellectual Property, of personal data. This podcast was recorded before the crippling Hackney Council breach so doesn’t address cybersecurity, but with home-based digital companies spreading like wildfire, are we protected enough?
  • Format innovation: Can we make hybrid live/online contact work and be inclusive? [As a corollary, will Zoom and Teams become the PowerPoint of the next decade? A bit crap as an experience, but the default when our learning time is sucked away by.. online meetings?]

Today’s guests deliver or support digital services in a small-business world, and cover the above and more… 

Alison Partridge is Managing Director of OneTech, part of the Capital Enterprise family. For nearly 30 years she’s worked across EU cities to support inclusive entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2018 she founded OneTech with colleagues and members at Capital Enterprise to tackle the lack of diversity in London’s tech start-up ecosystem. Alison’s been at the forefront of Covid impact on the tech sector and responses to it.

“I think we can try and turn this into an opportunity and see digital and tech as a bit of an equaliser: you can access new markets, you can access talent, you can talk to people anywhere in the world. These are things we could do for the last 5, 10 years, but probably haven’t done habitually… But there are still a lot of people who are excluded, so one of the things we’re trying to do is to connect under-represented people with the opportunities in London’s tech start-up ecosystem.” – Alison Partridge

Joe Mathewson is co-founder & Chief Operating Officer of Firefly Learning, a fast-growing EdTech platform for parent engagement and learning continuity. Joe and his business partner created Firefly while doing their GCSEs, when the experience was very close to home. In response to Covid-19, Firefly has offered schools free access to the platform through the end of December.

“Our customers are having to take a much more strategic approach to technology than I think many of them have done before. It’s something that senior leadership teams are engaging with more than ever… I think that’s probably just going to grow from here.” – Joe Mathewson

Onyeka Onyekwelu is Strategic Engagement Manager at the London Office of Technology & Innovation. LOTI helps boroughs collaborate on projects that use the best of digital, data and innovation to improve services and outcomes for Londoners. She’s also worked with the UN Women, Equality & Human Rights Commission and the Bar Associations on access to justice, digitisation of the courts, and equality and diversity. During lockdown, she’s worked with colleagues on digital methods for public engagement.

“[Boroughs] are doing amazing work, but they don’t always know what each other is doing. We’re committed to supporting boroughs to share the knowledge and resources being developed, ensure that they’re aligned with the higher-level missions of the London Recovery Task Force, and that they’re replicable and scalable by others.” – Onyeka Onyekwelu

Listen to the podcast to hear their lively discussion…

Further resources and links

  • Federation of Small Business: Digital Skills Initiative – visit the free resource hub.
    Firefly Learning launches a new Parent Portal on 11th November and is offering free access to its Parent Engagement & Learning Continuity platform through 31st December 2020: find out more here.
  • For surviving remote work in all its guises, check out Bruce Daisley’s excellent Make Work Better newsletter & website. The Nov 4th edition shares the concept of a digital commute…the work/home transition you need, without the armpits.
  • London Office of Technology & Innovation‘s main site, with projects, data & resources is here
  • LOTI ‘Thirty3’ London procurement resource – including council tech contracts – is here.
  • OneTech Entrepreneur & Enterprise Incubator: a 12-week programme to give entrepreneurs skills, opportunities and access to get to the next stage and achieve their goals. Find out more here.

Catch all podcast episodes on the Future of London City Bites page.

City Bites: Online engagement finds its way

City Bites Podcast: ‘Connections’ Ep. 2

“If you had said in March that we were going to plan for a mass digitisation of consultation and that London’s public sector was going to lead that charge, you’d have been thinking it’s a two- to three-year programme, it’s unlimited public funds, there’ll be a couple of catastrophes along the way, but, no, it’s taken everyone maybe six weeks to adapt…It’s a fluid situation but I have been hugely impressed.” – Jenna Goldberg

Local authorities have done a brilliant – some say surprising – job moving community engagement online on the heels of lifesaving health, food and contact support. To find out what’s working, what isn’t, and what may survive the Covid era, Coherent Cities director Lisa Taylor interviewed three people working on different aspects of online engagement:

  • Jenna Goldberg – Director, London Communications Agency
  • Jamal Miah – Community Liaison Advisor, LB Camden (West Kentish Town Estate)
  • Sib Trigg – Architect & Community Organiser, People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH)

All agreed that online consultation on its own is just a substitute for live events, but the debate they had about how it is opening doors v. limiting on-the-day engagement is bound to unfold as we emerge from lockdown.

Listen to the podcast to hear from them directly, and/or visit the Future of London City Bites episode page for tips & resources.

Curb Appeal: Managing Covid-19’s impact on public-private space

Social distancing has been key to reducing Covid-19 transmission, but it’s also been hugely disruptive. As loosening restrictions jostle with public confidence and business risk, what are the implications for urban design and movement, and for business and landlord viability? And can we flex enough to navigate a second wave?

Watch this lively webinar, hosted by RE:Women, to find out:

  • What councils, landlords and planners can do to make the space outside shops & restaurants a pleasant ‘waiting room’
  • What impact retail and F&B occupiers expect on operations and revenue, and what they’re doing about it
  • How area-aware station design for Crossrail and other projects could be impacted – and can help with local recovery.


  • Harbinder Birdi – Senior Partner, Hawkins\Brown
  • Jacqueline Bleicher – Founder/Director, Global Urban Design
  • Ally Reid – Investment Manager, LandSec
  • Lisa Taylor – Director, Coherent Cities (session producer & moderator)

City Bites: What’s at risk in recovery? Tony Travers & Barbara Brownlee on government roles in economic recovery

City Bites podcast: ‘Connections’ Ep. 2

How can UK government tiers interact usefully for economic recovery, especially in contentious cities like London? What support do local authorities need from national government to adapt to the new normal? And what might out city centres look like when the dust settles?

I asked Barbara Brownlee, City of Westminster Executive Director of Growth, Planning & Housing and LSE Professor Tony Travers for their perspectives in this compelling – and sometimes surprising – first episode of the City Bites “Connections” series with Future f London.


  • Treasury needs councils to avoid financial crisis, partly for economic recovery but also because local authorities are best placed for testing and managing all aspects of Covid response and relationships on the ground. Further, as Brownlee pointed out, being forced into a Section 114 budget-balancing exercise by these extraordinary Covid-19 costs would mean harsh cuts and no room for flexibility or collaboration. Despite increasing bluster, Travers believes we can expect MHCLG to do its best to help keep boroughs afloat.
  • Watch for councils, property companies and partners to start referring to all that vacant office space as “new” commercial or mixed-use space (Travers credits Arup’s Alex Jan with this reframing). Where landlords are amenable and planning authorities can flex, this could be a great way to bring fresh energy to town and city centres as smaller/ newer/ consortium organisations start to afford cheaper floor space.
  • Brownlee does represent a central London authority, but both make the case for not abandoning central cities (in the UK or elsewhere) in favour of sprawl. They also point out that large, historic landlords in city centres, like London’s Great Estates, have the patience – and patient capital – to make sound decisions, “viewing this as a 200-year thing, rather than a 20-month thing”.
  • In economic terms, both are particularly worried about the huge hole in Transport for London and commuter rail revenues – and the impact of that on investment – and about the terrible losses in the cultural sector, for livelihoods, businesses, footfall and export value.
  • Local authorities have limited powers to take direct action like policing risky queues or offering business rates relief, but they do have unique leveraging powers; watch for – or seek – more of this from them.
  • Both are convinced we will never go back to business as usual in terms of how we work, with Brownlee citing much more direct working on rough sleeping issues, and “100%” certainty that council staff and committees will stay at least partly remote and be as or more efficient than in the past.

Catch all City Bites episodes here.