Lancashire businesses, policymakers, universities, colleges and public service providers were presented with a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to create a dynamic and inclusive innovation-led ecosystem – as a result of the National Cyber Force’s (NCF) decision to base itself in the county – at an event in Preston last Thursday (June 30th).
Established in 2020 the NCF – a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and the UK’s intelligence, cyber and security agency GCHQ, as well as SIS and Dstl, – is responsible for operating in and through cyberspace to counter threats; disrupting and contesting those who would do harm to the UK and its allies, to keep the country safe.
In October 2021, it was announced that its permanent location would be in Lancashire, and that around 2,000 jobs would be created, through the NCF and other organisations and partners, by 2030.
At the special NCF industry summit – hosted by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) at UCLan’s Engineering and Innovation Centre – around 150 senior representatives from the region’s private, public and education sectors gathered to hear about and discuss the many and varied benefits which will be generated by the NCF’s presence in the county. The half-day session, which was co-produced by the LEP, NCF, BAE Systems, UCLan and Lancaster University, supported by Plexal, was introduced by the LEP’s CEO Sarah Kemp.
Themes covered how Lancashire companies and public sector organisations can collaborate together on NCF-related activities; opportunities for local businesses to develop more cross-sector working; the advantages of developing a regional cyber cluster across the North West; and how SMEs and the wider supply chain can tap into the commercial opportunities that could potentially be offered through the NCF.
Another key topic was the need to develop, maintain and promote a broad mix of skills, qualifications and career pathways which are aligned with the extensive range of jobs set to be generated, both directly and indirectly, due to the NCF’s investment.
Senior members of the NCF also emphasised their commitment to recruiting a genuinely diverse and inclusive local workforce, and how they wanted to challenge the stereotype that people working in cyber roles are exclusively ‘techies,’ and ‘coders’.
Speakers highlighted that many of the roles are set to be non-technical, and that there will be employment opportunities to suit young people, new graduates and career-changers, as well as experienced cyber professionals.
The morning culminated in two panel discussions. The first, featuring a mix of Lancashire businesses and senior representatives from both GCHQ and NCF, discussed what tools and resources a region needs in order to develop an effective and collaborative innovation ecosystem. It also explored why Lancashire is very well-placed to develop these powerful and integrated private-public networks, and how they can increase productivity and drive growth.
The second panel featured local skills, training, enterprise and education providers, and another representative from the NCF.
Its core focus was on the importance of developing a highly-skilled and diverse talent pipeline representing all sections of society – to maximise the opportunities offered by the NCF. This includes ensuring that people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, people who are neuro-diverse, people with protected characteristics, and people who are underrepresented in the technology sector, have equal opportunity to work with NCF.
In addition, panellists discussed barriers and misconceptions about working in technology sectors such as cyberspace; the need to inspire and excite young people about a career in the wider digital industries; and what the county’s skills and careers landscape may look like in ten years’ time when the size and capabilities of the NCF is operating at scale.
Debbie Francis OBE, Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “This event cemented the fact that the NCF presents a transformational opportunity for everyone in Lancashire. For example, in addition to the 2,000 direct jobs announced, we anticipate many more will be created across the supply chain, and that many of these new positions will be high value and high skilled roles. But we also see the NCF acting as a powerful catalyst, driving innovation and bringing people, businesses and organisations together to develop new ways of doing things.
“It will also build upon some of the great work already undertaken by the LEP and its many partners, especially in areas like vocational training and business support, and will complement other powerful assets such as our outstanding universities, our award-winning Digital Skills Partnership, the recently launched Lancashire Cyber Alliance network, and the new AMRC North West facility.
“The NCF is clearly going to be a game-changer, and it’s a very exciting time for Lancashire. The LEP and its partners are therefore looking forward to working closely with the NCF, and maximising the fantastic opportunities set to be unlocked by their presence in the very heart of the county.”
The NCF will play a key role in the region’s evolving ‘cyber corridor’, alongside GCHQ’s office in Manchester and Lancaster University’s cybersecurity R&D hub, contributing to a world-class cybersecurity and cyberspace cluster in the North West.
Sarah Kemp, CEO of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, addresses delegates at the EIC