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Mayor Sadiq Khan Hires London’s First Ever Chief Digital Officer

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

You’re hired! Theo Blackwell appointed as first ever Chief Digital Officer of the UK’s capital city

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has fulfilled one of his campaign pledges with the news that he has hired London’s first ever Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

Theo Blackwell was appointed as CDO and will be responsible for helping help Mayor Khan fulfil his desire for London “to be the world’s leading ‘smart city’.

The appointment comes after a three month search for suitable candidates, after the position was advertised in early May.

Sadiq Khan 3

Past Experience

“As London’s first CDO, Theo will play a leading role in realising the Mayor’s ambition to make London the world’s smartest city, ensuring that the capital’s status as a global tech hub helps transform the way public services are designed and delivered, making them more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners,” explained the major’s office.

On paper Blackwell looks to have the necessary skills and experience for the role, with 20 years of experience in both the public and private sector.

He previously worked GovTech accelerator Public Group, advising start-ups on the growing market in local public services. Blackwell was also previously Head of Policy & Public Affairs for the video games industry’s trade body, Ukie – where he ran a ‘Next Gen Skills’ campaign to get coding back on the curriculum.

Another role saw Blackwell operate as a cabinet member for finance, technology and growth at Camden Council. Whilst there, he helped establish Camden use of public data, for which it has received national recognition as Digital Leaders ‘Council of the year’.

Theo also sits on the Advisory Board of Digital Leaders and is a director of Camden Town Unlimited, which is a Business Improvement District (a start-up incubation scheme).

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CDO Responsibilities

So what exactly will Blackwell do to justify his package of £106,952 salary; 30 days holiday; interest free season ticket loan; interest free bicycle loan; childcare vouchers; and a pension?

Well the CDO will work closely with the Mayor’s Smart London Board to develop a new Smart London Plan. This involves playing a central role in developing collaboration across London’s different boroughs, and businesses. The thinking here is “to drive the digital transformation of public services, as well as supporting the spread of innovation through common technology standards and better data-sharing.”

It should be remembered that London is currently regarded as Europe’s leading technology hub, with more than 47,000 digital technology companies in the capital, employing approximately 240,000 people.

And that is only set to grow in the years ahead, with the number of tech companies forecasted to increase by a third, with a further 44,500 jobs created, by 2026.

The CDO will also be responsible for promoting pan-London collaboration on connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber-security and open data. The CDO will also focus on scoping work for the London Office for Technology & Innovation – announced by Mayor Kahn at London Tech Week.

London of course already utilises a number of smart technologies such as ticketing and contactless technology on the transport network, and it also has the London Datastore – a free resource where people can access data relating to the city itself.

Smart City

“I am determined to make London the world’s leading ‘smart city’ with digital technology and data at the heart of making our capital a better place to live, work and visit,” explained Mayor Khan.

“We already lead in digital technology, data science and innovation and I want us to make full use of this in transforming our public services for Londoners and the millions of visitors to our great city,” he added.

“I am delighted to appoint Theo Blackwell as London’s first Chief Digital Officer, and I know he will use his experience working in the technology sector and developing public services to improve the lives of all Londoners,” he said.

“The new Chief Digital Officer post is an amazing opportunity to make our capital even more open to innovation, support jobs and investment and make our public services more effective,” said Theo Blackwell.

“The pace of change over the next decade requires public services to develop a stronger relationship with the tech sector,” said Blackwell. “Our purpose is to fully harness London’s world-class potential to make our public services faster and more reliable at doing things we expect online, but also adaptable enough to overcome the capital’s most complex challenges.”

Blackwell’s appointment has been broadly welcomed by many, including the government’s former digital champion, Baroness Martha Lane Fox.

“Digital leadership is a major challenge for the public sector, as the new Chief Digital Officer for London Theo’s track-record delivering real change in local government and his work in the tech sector brings real experience to this role,” said Baroness Lane Fox.

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