It’s been a busy week for London mayor Sadiq Khan, having joined heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua in the ring at Wembley on Saturday night a day after withdrawing support for the capital’s divisive garden bridge. Now, Khan has announced a search for London’s first chief digital officer.
While Khan rode into City Hall on the back of a manifesto dominated by affordable housing, transport freeze and air quality improvement promises, the new mayor has taken a shine to the business issues currently at hand.
In November he made writer, broadcaster, DJ, performer and campaigner Amy Lamé the job of night czar – charged with helping to grow London’s night time economy – and now he’s after a chief digital officer to ensure the city’s technological nous is able to “transform the way public services are delivered”.
Part of the surge that saw Khan topple Conservatives candidate Zac Goldsmith and become London’s third mayor in 2016 was a commitment to be the most “business-friendly mayor London has ever seen”.
At the heart of this is his “London is Open” campaign, which involved trips to Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Madrid and Warsaw in March. “I promised to be the most pro-business mayor this city has ever seen and it is vital that we demonstrate to our partners overseas that despite Brexit we remain open to business, investment, talent and ideas,” Khan said at the time.
His latest policy move, to hire a chief digital officer, is part of Khan’s desire to make London the world’s leading “smart city”. Working with the mayor’s office, the mayor’s Smart London Board, local authorities and the technology sector, Khan wants someone who can encourage collaboration and adoption of common standards around data and service transformation.
Statistics released by the mayor’s office suggest there are in excess of 40,000 digital technology companies in London, employing around a quarter of a million people. It is the services and products being built by these predominantly young companies that Khan wants to leverage, taking the onus off of the public sector to better the services people in the capital rely on.
“London is a world-leading hub for digital technology, data science and urban innovation. These technologies have the potential to transform the way that Londoners and visitors experience our city,” he said in a statement.
“I want to take the digital transformation of our public services to the next level, so we can improve the ways in which we plan and deliver public services for Londoners.”
It is reassuring to see Khan putting in place the infrastructure he feels is necessary to position London as a global leader in both the creation and public use of potentially game-changing technologies. He’s also been quick to distance himself from vanity projects first launched by his predecessor, such as the garden bridge.
So, while joining Joshua in the ring after his victory over Wladimir Klitschko was a little contrived and rather cringe, the business community can only be reassured by his commitment to putting this group high up on his list of priorities.
Khan is only one year into into a four-year job – a job that will be made very complicated by Brexit and another general election. The bell is only about to ring on round three – there are still nine more to come.