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Exclusive: Wiltshire could play a leading role in defence against cyber attacks

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Wiltshire could play a major role in the fight against criminal and state-sponsored cyber attacks, as part of an initiative known as Cyber Valley.

Corsham could be the base for a hub of firms of cyber intelligence experts, developing new ways of making businesses cyber-resilient to hackers, and providing emergency response to companies in the event of cyber attacks.

Inspired by Israel's Be'er Sheva, the hub would be the UK's private sector version of GCHQ, the government facility that provides cybersecurity for the British state.

The proposed initiative was revealed last week, when Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership updated around 100 business leaders on its Local Industrial Strategy, which it is co-authoring with government, as part of the UK's Industrial Strategy.

The Cyber Valley initiative would see four LEPs – Swindon and Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and The Marches – band together to create a 'valley' stretching from Shrewsbury in the north to Salisbury in the south.

The region synonymous with the UK's leading defence and security firms and agencies, including the MoD's Joint Cyber Unit in Corsham, QinetiQ at Boscombe Down, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, along with GCHQ in Cheltenham, and Special Forces in Hereford.

The Valley is the UK’s leading region in cyber security after London: home to more than 50 cyber security firms and over 100 organisations actively shaping cyber security products, services and development.

The cyber security cluster would seek to double the size of the sector in the region, from 5,000 high-skilled jobs in 2018 to 10,000 by 2025 – creating high-skilled jobs to the county. SWLEP director Paddy Bradley said the other LEPs would be happy to see the hub established at Corsham.

The cyber hub is a key part of the Local Industrial Strategy, which is designed to build on local strengths and drive growth.

Every LEP in the country has been charged by government to develop a Local Industrial Strategy. But the publication of Swindon and Wiltshire's strategy has been brought forward because of the "economic shocks" of the Russian nerve agent attack in Salisbury, which has seen tourist visitor number tumble by 10 percent, and Honda's decision to cease motor manufacturing in Swindon in 2021, at a cost of 3,500 direct jobs and another 10,000 in the supply chain.

Initially due to be published in March 2020, the strategy now looks likely to be adopted next month – making it the most quickly-produced Local Industrial Strategy in the UK.

The draft strategy suggests that Swindon and Wiltshire's productivity is slightly below the national average – with an over-reliance of jobs in low-value sectors including transport, accommodation, human health and social work, and wholesale and retail.

Start-ups and scale-ups are not always reaching their potential, says the report. Further investment is needed to enable small high-productivity sectors to grow, and large low-productivity sectors to improve their outputs.

This could be addressed, the report suggests, by support for further start-ups and scale-ups via the Growth Hub, targeting private financial investment at the county, improving north-south connectivity by road and rail, creating more employment space, and improving broadband speeds – especially in rural areas.

Other big ideas include attracting and nurturing businesses working in the alternative fuels sector – especially in electric vehicles, battery storage, and hydrogen technology – and the creation of a business-led, multi-campus university to address Swindon and Wiltshire's skills shortage.

The skills gap sees just 36 percent of teenagers in Swindon and 46 percent in Wiltshire go on to higher education – compared to the national average of 51 percent. Many of the young people who leave the area for university do not return.

The LEP engaged with around 1,000 businesses in the production of the draft strategy – one in thirty businesses in the area.

SWLEP holds its annual Growth Summit in Swindon next month.