Theo Blackwell becomes London’s chief digital officer

Mayor appoints Camden councillor and digital innovator to lead collaboration projects and effort to make capital ‘smartest city’

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has appointed Theo Blackwell as the capital’s first ever chief digital officer (CDO).

Theo BlackwellThe official announcement said Blackwell (pictured) will play a leading role in plans to make London the world’s smartest city, combining its growth as a global tech hub with the transformation of public services.

He already has a high profile in local government digital circles. In his role as council member for finance, technology and growth at the London Borough of Camden he has evangelised the potential of digital technology in delivering better services – a role that was recognised when this year the authority was named Digital Leaders’ Council of the Year.

He has also been working at govtech accelerator Public Group, advising start-ups on the growing market in local public services, and was previously head of policy and public affairs for the video games industry’s trade body Ukie.   

Blackwell will work closely with the mayor’s Smart London Board to develop a new Smart London Plan, and play a central role in building collaboration between London’s boroughs and businesses. He will also focus on pan-London collaboration on connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber-security and open data; scoping work for the London Office for Technology and Innovation; and supporting innovation through common technology standards and better data sharing.

Amazing opportunity

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.

“The pace of change over the next decade requires public services to develop a stronger relationship with the tech sector.  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."

The announcement was applauded by Antony Walker, deputy chief executive officer of IT industry association techUK.

“techUK has long argued that London needed a chief digital officer to ensure that it makes the best possible use of new digital technologies,” he said. “The appointment of Theo Blackwell is good news for Londoners.

“The smart use of new digital technologies can improve the lives of people living in or visiting London. Theo Blackwell brings a deep understanding of both the opportunities ahead and the challenges of implementing new digital technologies to address the city’s most pressing problems. “

Obstacles and optimism

In a recent interview with UKAuthority, Blackwell acknowledged that there are obstacles in the way of digital transformation in local government, notably in the resistance of a small but vociferous cohort of elected members.

But overall he expressed optimism and emphasised the importance of councils harnessing their data assets more effectively.