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Spring 2021
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Gloucestershire and Cheltenham’s historic cyber roots

Gloucestershire and Cheltenham’s historic cyber roots

For almost 70 years Gloucestershire has enjoyed a fruitful association with the security and intelligence communities, ever since GCHQ decided to call Cheltenham its home in 1952 when it opened its first site in Oakley. Almost 60 years later it moved to new headquarters in Benhall before moving again, this time into the landmark building, affectionately known as “The Doughnut”, in 2004.

Over the years this has acted as a magnet for tech and cyber firms, meaning today Gloucestershire – and Cheltenham in particular – has a cyber-ready infrastructure and eco-system like no other.

What’s more, cyber security is now one of the most resilient, vital and fastest-growing sectors on the planet.

When we think of global threats we think of physical manifestations such as wars, terrorism and crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

But cyber threats are just as dangerous and have proven to be extremely disruptive to entire economies and even to global democracy itself, reinforcing the need for cyber resilience to be in place and innovation to be driving the next wave of safeguards.

The backdrop to this is that the internet changed the world, making us connected in ways previous generations could never have imagined. But with that interconnectivity comes increasingly sophisticated criminal activity. Today it’s not just large corporates that are under threat, every UK organisation is a target no matter how big or small – even our NHS which was targeted with the WannaCry ransomware.

Each attack is potentially hugely damaging, both financially and to the public’s trust in the security of our persona data.

Cyber capabilities are at the heart of what drives the UK’s international competitiveness, offering a platform from which to develop solutions to some of the world’s most pressing existential challenges.

Here in Gloucestershire, cyber-focused businesses are already leading the way in unlocking innovation and driving economic output, helping establish the county as a centre of excellence primed to embrace its role as the UK’s number one cyber location.

And, central to that proposition, is the vision for the Golden Valley Development.

So, what are the key factors that led to the development of Gloucestershire’s base of cyber and tech-focused industries and paved the way to future prosperity through the Golden Valley Development?

An independent report called ‘Gloucestershire Cyber and Digital Sector Impact Study’ by HATCH looked into Gloucestershire’s cyber ambitions and the rationale for the establishment of the Golden Valley Development. It found that:

· Tech-led growth is a cornerstone to productivity

· The economy is rapidly becoming “digital by default”

· The UK is a global cyber and digital player

· Government support is a key foundation for growth

· The UK cyber sector has experienced rapid growth.

Most crucially, the report also found that “Gloucestershire’s cyber ambitions are unique”.

The research goes on to outline what it describes as “a series of original and significant insights which showcase the capabilities and value of Gloucestershire’s cyber and tech-orientated businesses. When combined, these factors underline the compelling cyber offer and provide hooks from which to anchor growth ambitions”.

In a nutshell, that “compelling cyber offer” includes:

· Digital tech foundations – 123 cyber businesses are based in Gloucestershire, six times the density of the UK average. Cheltenham is the undoubted core of cyber activity with the borough hosting 59 active cyber businesses, making its concentration 11 times the UK average

· Cyber characteristics – GCHQ/NCSC is an obvious magnet for cyber organisations, and Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury all have prominent cyber tech clusters

· Economic value and impact – cyber businesses generate £185m annually and employ more than 1,100 people, with GCHQ/NCSC employing a further 6,000

· The cyber ecosystem – the county has an excellent existing pool of skilled labour and is renowned for its commitment to enterprise and innovation

· World-class assets – world-leading research and innovation together with top tier education institutions with cyber capabilities.

With global and regional economies still reeling from the devastating impacts of COVID-19 there is no doubt that investment in further developing world-class cyber capabilities will underpin Gloucestershire’s ambitions for prosperity.

Driven by teamwork and collaboration between the public and private sectors, the Golden Valley Development is a vital development not just for Cheltenham and Gloucestershire, but for the South West and nation as a whole. Taking GCHQ’s 100-year heritage of protecting national security and our national infrastructure as well as businesses and citizens that operate within them, this development builds on that rich history and positions the county as the cyber-tech capital of the UK and beyond.

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