Cybersecurity is one of the biggest challenges of our times, in this increasingly interconnected world so many of the services that we rely on are vulnerable to a cyber attack.
We saw just last year a taste of what could happen when the NHS was victim to an attack with thousands of appointments cancelled and a cost to the public well into the millions.
The stakes could not be higher, but in this new brief I want to confront this enormous challenge with the mindset of it also being a huge opportunity for jobs and prosperity, which if confronted correctly could transform local economies such as ours.
One of our key vulnerabilities is the critical shortage of cyber specialists in the UK.
It is estimated that there are 1.8 million vacancies worldwide for cyber specialists, and last year GCHQ went on record to say they have enormous problems recruiting and retaining specialists when the private sector can often pay four or five times what we can in the public sector.
We need a skills revolution in this country which not only keeps Britain safe in the cyber age but acts as a catalyst for inclusive growth across the country, especially in post-industrial towns such as ours which need that inward investment, a jobs revolution and an economic revival.
In this role it is also important to call out the mistakes and the shortcomings in the Government’s current handling of cybersecurity matters.
The investigation into the attack on our NHS 18 months ago found that old computer systems were a key vulnerability, and one which if fixed may have prevented the chaos we saw.
However, answering a question of mine a few weeks ago the Government admitted they had no idea how many computers were still operating this critical vulnerability.
The Government is so keen to ramp up the rhetoric but when it comes to meaningful action to keep us all safe we’re presented with a worrying picture of neglect.
Therefore, over the coming months I’ll be helping to work on Labour’s cyber policy for Government.
I have already begun that engagement with businesses, industry, academics and specialists to produce a meaningful plan that Britain safe and put jobs and skills first.
Locally, that means exploring what options we can provide to attract the training, businesses and employment and I have already had some promising conversations.
Cybersecurity doesn’t have to be a costly burden on society.