London's Tech Chief Insists the Capital is Open to Innovation, Despite Uber Ban

By Tom Pritchard on at

Some people consider London's decision to deny Uber a new operating licence as an attack on innovation and choice. I am of the opinion that those people are idiots, mainly because Uber is but one of many hi-tech companies operating in the capital (taxi-based or otherwise). Now London's Theo Blackwell, Sadiq Khan's new digital officer, promised that the city is still open to new technology and innovation - provided it's used properly.

Speaking to the London Evening Standard, Blackwell said:

"I want to work with boroughs and other public institutions to trial new technology and do them in a way that’s right for London. You’ve got to plan for future growth and needs. There are technologies that are being trialled in other parts of the world and we have to leave our door open to how they could be deployed appropriately here.

All that we do will be driven by the needs of Londoners and not by the needs of someone with a product.”

The technologies he mentioned include the City of London allowing drones to film within its airspace for the first time, and GM being granted permission to test its self-driving cars within New York.

Blackwell, who was appointed in August, also flat out denied that the Uber ban was an attack on innovation in the city.

“London has 50 tech clusters, life sciences, fintech, loads of start-ups. Tell them that London is not open for innovation. It’s not down to the outcome of the licencing process with one company or another - we have a huge tech sector which is innovating right now.”

He noted that there are rules in place, and that all tech companies have to play by those rules. So no developing software to deliberately avoid law enforcement and regulators.

In terms of his role as London's 'digital tsar', Blackwell's current focus is improving broadband speeds across the city - working closely with London's borough councils to make this happen. This is in part for the tech firms London attracts, but also in anticipation of the an increase in the number of handheld devices within the city. He noted that London is falling behind its European counterparts, and that the city needs to plan ahead.

He also has plans to utilise big data to improve life within London, and make it "the smartest city in the world". [Standard]


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