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Theo Blackwell appointed London’s first chief digital officer

Theo Blackwell has been appointed London’s first chief digital officer as part of Sadiq Khan’s plans to transform the capital into the world’s leading smart city.

Blackwell joins the mayor’s team from govtech accelerator Public Group, where he was a policy fellow, and Camden council, where he was a councillor and cabinet member for finance, technology and growth.

Khan pledged to create a CDO role for the capital when he ran for mayor last year. His team began searching for candidates in May.

“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,” Khan said today.

According to City Hall, Blackwell has three key tasks:

1. Provide strategic leadership on the digital transformation agenda for London’s public services, across the GLA group and the wider public sector. He will help develop a Smart London Plan with the the Mayor’s Smart London Board.

2. Convene on behalf of the Mayor, across London local government, to build support for and take-up of innovative, technology and data-led approaches to service delivery and public engagement.

3. Develop and promote partnership between the public, private and community sectors to enable and support the development of new public service oriented technology and innovation.

Blackwell said the post was an “amazing opportunity” to make the capital more open to innovation, support jobs and investment and make public services more effective.

“The pace of change over the next decade requires public services to develop a stronger relationship with the tech sector,” he said. “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 spoke candidly about the technological challenges facing London’s councils in an interview with NS Tech last month.

“There’s a concern that we’re not open enough to solutions from the tech sector, that we’re over-dependent on big IT and that we’re not expressing our needs in the way that the tech sector can respond to,” he said.

At Camden, Blackwell led efforts to design a new virtual institution, the London Office for Technology and Innovation (LOTI), to kickstart a step-change in the way councils procure technology. Scoping out LOTI will be a key part of the CDO role, the mayor’s office said.

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of the trade association techUK, welcomed the news of Blackwell’s appointment.

“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,” he said.