This week I invited Michael Gove MP, the newly minted Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to visit the new Advanced Digital Academy at Gloucestershire College in Hesters Way.
I brought him to this £3m, Government funded, facility because I wanted to impress upon him why ‘levelling up’ is so important to places like Cheltenham. We may be outside the North of England, but our town has pockets of intense deprivation all the same.
The Advanced Digital Academy is levelling up on steroids. It really is a spectacular bit of kit. From the wall screens depicting in real time the source and target of global cyber attacks, to the ‘attack’ and ‘defend’ rooms for capture the flag competitions, it is a state-of-the art facility for the local community. It will be the base for the UK's first-ever GCHQ/NCSC-accredited cyber skills course, and Michael Gove received glowing feedback from the young people he met who were using the facility for apprenticeships and T-Levels in cyber.
Meanwhile, upstairs in the very same GlosCol building near Princess Elizabeth Way is Hub8 – an office facility used by for cyber start-ups to build their businesses. Funded through a further £1m in Government grants, it is home to established businesses and GCHQ suppliers, but also small-scale enterprises, creating the ecosystem vital to spark success. The businesses we met spoke glowingly of the pipeline of talent emerging from the cyber courses in the same building.
This investment is a major step forward in delivering the cyber vision for Cheltenham. When I first set out my plans for the town to be a tech hub in a speech in 2014, it was motivated by my drive to boost social mobility. I always knew the fast-growing cyber sector could help with the fight against deprivation, providing a better future for young people who may not have had the easiest start in life, but are prepared to work hard to fulfil their potential.
This visit showed levelling up in action.