We're rounding up some of the biggest security cleared stories of the past few weeks. In October, new investments were announced into the UK's cyber defence capabilities, a new home was chosen for Ministry of Defence (MoD) IT services, and the chancellor offered welcome news on pay for police and central government employees.
£5bn 'offensive cyber' spy unit to be based in Lancashire
The village of Samlesbury in Lancashire is set to be the base of a new £5 billion cyber unit that will be tasked with 'offensive operations' against the UK's adversaries.
One of the country's newest defence agencies, the National Cyber Force (NCF) is thought to have begun work last spring and was formally avowed by prime minister Boris Johnson in November 2020. The unit is jointly run by the MoD and GCHQ and its new home will be a purpose-built campus at the Lancashire Enterprise Zone facility, which also houses a manufacturing plant for BAE Systems.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said the NCF will "embrace exciting new offensive cyber technologies and provide thousands of highly-skilled jobs and expertise to the north-west". Activities the unit may be tasked with could include targeting enemy weapon systems to protect UK military aircraft or interfering with a mobile phone to prevent terrorists from communicating with their contacts.
Amazon wins security services contract for hosting of top secret material
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has secured a contract with the UK government to host highly classified material from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ in order to speed up data analysis and improve the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in espionage.
The deal was signed earlier this year and is thought to be worth as much as £1 billion over the next decade, the Financial Times reports, though details remain a closely-guarded secret. All the data will remain held in the UK, sources told the publication.
The director of GCHQ Jeremy Fleming has made the use of AI a top priority in a more digital age. It is thought the deal will allow agencies to share data more easily from overseas and support applications such as speech recognition, which can identify and translate individual voices from hours' worth of intercept recordings. It will also enable GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 to conduct faster searches on each other’s databases.
Highlands chosen as home of new MoD IT services centre
The Scottish Highlands region has been selected for the location of a new IT services centre to support the MoD, which is part of a £225 million investment in defence IT support and will create jobs for more than 250 people at two sites in Nairn and Inverness.
It forms part of a five-year deal between the MoD and services provider Capgemini that will offer IT support to 250,000 users across defence. Located near to military bases at RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks, the facility will support the MoD’s communications network across the globe and provide high-quality digital jobs and career progression for young people and more experienced staff. It will be the largest such centre in Europe based on the number of end-users.
Defence minister Jeremy Quin said: "Effective and reliable Information Technology is vital for all areas of defence, whether at home or across the globe on military operations, and our brilliant new service centres will be providing a critical service to boost our service resilience.
“It is fantastic that our investment has been able to provide 250 full-time, high-quality jobs in Scotland, including for a number of ex-service personnel."
Police and civil servants to benefit as public sector pay freeze ends
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has confirmed the pay freeze for public sector employees is to be ended, which is expected to benefit 2.6 million workers, including those in police and central government jobs.
Delivering his annual Budget address this month, Mr Sunak said the government had been forced to take the "difficult decision" to freeze pay during the pandemic. However, he said that with the economy back on track, it’s right that workers who played their part during this period are rewarded with higher wages. According to the Treasury, this could mean an extra £1,000 a year for full-time employees.
Commenting on the news, Ché Donald, national vice-chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said this needs to translate into a substantial increase that factors in higher living costs. He added: "While we welcome the Chancellor's decision to end the unfair pay freeze for some public sector workers, this must result in an increase of more than the four per cent inflation figure he predicted for 2022 if it is to make a positive difference."