Public Services > Local Government

Theo Blackwell named London’s first chief digital officer

David Bicknell Published 25 August 2017

Imaginative choice by Mayor Sadiq Khan takes Camden Council’s Cabinet member for finance, technology and growth into significant digital role for London


For years, Theo Blackwell has been arguably local government’s digital conscience. From his position as the London Borough of Camden’s cabinet member for finance, technology and growth, he drove Camden’s digital strategy working closely with John Jackson, then Camden’s chief information officer (and now chief executive of the London Grid for Learning).

He has provided insightful comment on a range of issues, including notably digital transformation and devolution. Recently, he was found providing questioning insight at a Nesta event on City Data analytics. His timely insight on digital and local government can often be found on Twitter.

Today, though, Blackwell himself is the story because he’s been named by Sadiq Khan as London’s first chief digital officer.

According to Sadiq Khan, Blackwell 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 can transform the way public services are designed and delivered, making them more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners.

He joins the Mayor’s team following work at GovTech accelerator Public Group, advising start-ups on the growing market in local public services. He 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.

Blackwell will bring more than 20 years of experience in technology and digital transformation in both the public and private sector to his new chief digital officer role. In his role at Camden, he established Camden as London’s leading digital borough through its use of public data.  He also sits on the Advisory Board of Digital Leaders and is a director of Camden Town Unlimited, a Business Improvement District which pioneered new start-up incubation in ‘meanwhile’ space.

Looking ahead to his role, Blackwell will work closely with Sadiq Khan’s Smart London Board to develop a new Smart London Plan, and will play a key role in building collaboration across London’s boroughs, and businesses, to drive the digital transformation of public services, as well as supporting the spread of innovation through common technology standards and better data-sharing.

He will also promote manifesto ambitions around pan-London collaboration on connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber-security and open data and focus on scoping work for the London Office for Technology & Innovation announced by the Mayor at London Tech Week.

Mayor Sadiq Khan said, “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. 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.

“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.”

Blackwell himself 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 digital great and good have welcomed Blackwell’s appointment, including his old Camden colleague Jackson, who said, "I think it’s a wonderful appointment. Theo has fantastic vision and coupled that with an unerring ability to turn that vision into meaningful outcomes including better services for citizens and savings. Theo’s defining quality for me is his commitment to tackling inequality and ensuring no one gets left behind in a digital age. It’s the right appointment, at the right time to make London a world class digital city."

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of techUK, said, “techUK has long argued that London needed a chief digital officer to ensure that London makes the best possible use of new digital technologies.

“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. This appointment is an important step forward to London being at the forefront of tech innovation to create smart places and communities where citizens want to live, work and thrive. “

Councillor Claire Kober, chair of London Councils, said, "The appointment of London's first Chief Digital Officer fills an important role providing needed digital leadership for London's public services.  Theo will bring his longstanding experience working with other borough leaders, which I think is critical as we develop new approaches to developing, procuring and scaling the best digital solutions across the capital."

Doteveryone founder, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, said: "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."  

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