Alex Chalk MP

Introduction

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My name’s Alastair and throughout this podcast, I’m going to be speaking with a variety of very special guests from the worlds of business, sport, music, literature, politics, and many more, all of whom have a connection to the Cotswolds area of outstanding natural beauty.

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This week, I’m joined by the MP for Cheltenham, Alex Chalk. This recording takes place in week nine of lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic and we discuss the impact this has hard on the political landscape and how Alex believes Cheltenham and the local area will emerge from it. Like earlier episodes that have been recorded during the lockdown, our conversation is recorded over Zoom and we start off by hearing how Alex has been working these last couple of months.

Alex Chalk:

By and large, I would say I think the tech has worked reasonably well. There’s quite an amusing video going around on WhatsApp of people sitting in a room but as if they’re experiencing the difficulties of barking dogs and dropped out connections and stuff. It’s quite funny, but yes, we have had a few technological mishaps, but overall it’s worked pretty well.

Alastair:

How has the last couple of months been for you? You started - you had to self-isolate as well, away from your family - that was quite early on as well, wasn’t it?

Alex Chalk:

Yeah, it was really only on actually. That was when Nadine Doris came down with it and I got this call out of the blue from Public Health England saying, “Yeah, you’re going to have to go into self-isolation and that was on the basis that Nadine and I had been in the library for half an hour or so. But that feels like a lifetime ago now. That was, I guess in early March and then since then I’ve been back down in Cheltenham and occasionally popping up to Parliament to do what needs to be done. But from the 2nd June, I’ll be back in harness, so there we go.

Alastair:

Yeah. I know that’s something that I know Jacob Rees-Mogg said that he wants, or believes, that MPs should be back at beginning of June. Are MPs generally happy with that? What’s the general consensus or are some still wanting to perhaps isolate?

Alex Chalk:

I mean, my clear view is that we should be back and I think we need to send out the message that we’re open for business, that democracy is flowing on like a mighty river and so on. And look, I think there is a really prosaic point as well, which is that if you want to get the business of government done, there’s a whole load of legislation that needs to be enacted, then you need MPs there. And in my own particular field, I’m responsible for bringing into law the Domestic Abuse Bill, which includes a whole load of really important protections for victims of domestic abuse, usually women not exclusively. And if you’re all sitting at home in your constituencies, it’s very, very difficult to get that committee work, the line by line work done. So that’s the first thing.

But it’s not just that. I think there’s also the cut and thrust of the debates. It’s much, much more difficult to really build up that tempo and to properly explore the issues and frankly, properly hold the government to account, which is what Parliamentarians of all stripes should want to do. And I say that speaking as a government minister myself, scrutiny really, really matters. But you asked a question about how it’s going down. I think overall, most people, certainly people that I speak to in the conservatives are keen to go back, not exclusively, I think it’s fair that there are some who are concerned about how long it’s going to take to vote because you can’t use the voting lobbies so there’s going to be sort of long queues to do it. But my clear feeling is that we’ve got to turn up, we’ve got to make it work and we simply going to have to live with this new normal and democracy is critically important. People look to us, so we’ve got to make a success of it.

Alastair:

And how has it been in Parliament in terms of the social distancing? How has it been managed, is everyone getting used to it?

Alex Chalk:

Well, I mean, you say how is it being managed? I mean, the reality is the overwhelming majority of MPs aren’t anywhere near Parliament and that’s how it’s been managed frankly because you’ve seen the footage in the chamber that it’s very sparsely populated now, and that’s not because there’s a whole lot of people outside sort of straining to get in, it’s because they’re in their constituencies. And although it’s worked tolerably well in the sense that we’ve managed to have a PMQs of sorts and there’ve been oral Parliamentary questions of sorts, and I’m somebody who’s had to answer some in the Ministry of Justice, it’s just not the same. It really isn’t. And although I absolutely take my hat off to the I.T guys for what they’ve done in a really, really short period of time to make it work, I think it’s a pretty hollow attempt of Parliament really and I think we’ve just got to get back so that that proper cut and thrust of debates can continue. It’s a pale imitation of Parliament and I want to see the full fat version.

Alastair:

A lot of businesses are obviously looking at how they are going to be working going forward. From what you’ve said therefore really, Parliament - that’s a model or institution that really has to work as it is where there’s no way of doing anything like that remotely, like other businesses are looking to operate. There just has to be onsite debating, that’s the way it’s going to be?

Alex Chalk:

Look, I think so. I know there’s more than one view, so some might say, “Well, listen, you know this is ridiculous. It’s the 21st century. We ought to be able to vote remotely and so on.” But I think this experience has told us that there are certain workplaces where actually a level of face to face contact matters and the reality is if you want to have decent decision making. By that I mean, people who’ve listened to the debate or at least had the opportunity to discuss with others the people’s concerns about legislation or areas where it could be improved and so on. I’m afraid it is far more difficult to do that when the person is in the Outer Hebrides and if the kind of human contact in the tea room, it might sound bizarre, but that’s actually where you start to thrash out some of these important issues.

So my thing is, yes look, you can have a kind of a Parliament of sorts, but it’s a pale imitation of Parliament, and when you’re dealing with issues like the Domestic Abuse Bill, when you’re dealing with issues like COVID and how we should begin emerging from it, I just think you’ve got to have those minds absolutely focused on the relevant bits of legislation. And unfortunately, being scattered to the four winds doesn’t allow the intensity of debate that I think really is required particularly at a time like this. But goodness knows, there are other issues going on. I mean, there’s the whole issue of our future relationship with the European union, for example. And I think we’ve got to turn up a) for democracy and b) because it sends out a message that we are going to make this work, we’re going to adjust to a new normal, the show’s got to get back on the road, the economy has got to reheat. We’re going to have to move forward and we’ve got to do so with a real can-do spirit.

Alastair:

You’ve spent a lot of time obviously in Cheltenham. What has the feedback been from the constituents here and people working in the constituency, from NHS workers, from key workers and so on. What sort of feedback and comments are you getting from people?

Alex Chalk:

It’s very hard to answer that simply. I mean, the reality, and let me try and break it down a little bit. I mean, in terms of the health services, everyone is extremely enthusiastic and grateful about the NHS and that’s as you would expect. I think there is a note of relief as well in the sense that the hospitals, which we feared at one stage were going to be completely overrun. There were some apocalyptic visions of, I don’t know, field hospitals up at the race course, and goodness knows what. But thanks to the brilliance of the folks working in the hospitals, that hasn’t happened. And at the time we’re recording this, I think there is something like three people in the ICU and the capacity is over 90.

Now, of course, that is a short-term relief because immediately you start thinking, well, hang on, what’s the opportunity cost been? What about people who haven’t been able to have their routine appointments and so on? And I know now there’s a really intense effort to ramp that up so that people’s cancer treatment will continue and all that sort of thing. So from that point of view, though, there’s a bit of sense of relief, but focus on the recovery. In terms of the economics, I think the thing that has been, in some ways I’ve been most sort of proud about in the response is the fact that Cheltenham alone has had something like 24 million pounds in these grants which go out to businesses and retail, hospitality, nature and so on.

And I mean to put 24 million in context, the borough council’s annual budget is around about 12 million pounds, right? For all the bins, for all the planning, for all the odds and sods that they do. And so 24 million going into Cheltenham businesses that has been, I mean, there’s no doubt that’s been the difference between oblivion and solvency for some and as you know, grants are £10,000 or £25,000, but of course, and the furlough schemes made a difference as well. But inevitably there are some areas where people don’t fit into neat categories and those have been some of the toughest conversations and a lot of my work that has been how we can try and help those individuals who don’t naturally fit into either being employed or self-employed or being eligible for the business rates. So that’s been an important part. So really it’s been about lives and it’s been about livelihoods and lots of issues arising out of both.

Alastair

So as a whole then in terms of Cheltenham and the surrounding Cotswold areas, generally how well equipped are they to come through it and emerge compared to perhaps other parts of the country? Do you think we’re well placed in Cheltenham?

Alex Chalk:

I think there are areas of real resilience and strength. So for example, we’ve managed to secure a load of government investment in Cheltenham and Gloucestershire. So for example, we all know about the air balloon roundabout, but also in Cheltenham specifically, there’s the cyber park which is something I’ve been very sort of passionate about, but there’s 20 somewhat million going into improving the road network around there. So in the past, I’ve talked about it a bit like a kind of micro new deals. So we remember in the 1930s, Roosevelt said, “We’re going to have a new deal to rebuild America.” Well we’ve got a lot of government spending that is going to go into really help Cheltenham and we’ll provide that resilience and help to power us out of this difficult period.

However, there are areas where inevitably like other parts of the country we’re vulnerable as well, and you’ve only got to cycle through the town centre and you just have a proper sense of retail and the vulnerability of retail that existed before. We have got a massive high street. We always have. It stretches for a mile, if not more and there’s been a sense for a long time that this was becoming an increasingly marginal business. And I think if we’re being realistic about it, we have to recognize that this has probably accelerated a trend that was there anyway. And that’s why I’ve been saying for some time that, although this is a crisis and there’s been a retail crisis for some time, you have to try to see what are the positives that can come from that crisis.

What I mean by that is I think that there is an opportunity for us to say, as a town, “Hang on a second, we’ve simply got too much retail space. So which parts of town could you look to re-designate as retail?” And by the way, the owners of those properties would be delighted because retail tends to be more valuable. And that would have the effect of trying to provide accommodation, particularly for young people who might be more content to have a residence in a town centre and provide affordable accommodation for them at the same time as perhaps reducing the retail footprint so that it remains concentrated, but vibrant over a smaller area. That those are the sorts of things we’ve got to be thinking about very strategically, because what I don’t want to see is a pot marked town centre with boarded-up shops, but the occasional one that’s still surviving and so on. So I think we need to think, well rather, the council needs to think really strategically about that.

The second thing I’ll just mention briefly is, I mean, I’ve been cycling for 20 years long before it was a kind of fashionable thing to do. There is no doubt that if we want to get fitter, happier and healthier as a society, we’ve got to normalise active travel. We talked about this for yonks and yonks and yonks. Now’s got to be the time when we deliver it. So whether you’re young or old, whether you’re fit or perhaps your athletic days are behind you, there is such an opportunity now to improve active travel, particularly with the arrival of e-bikes as well, so that it’s accessible to so many people. I think it could be a game changer in places like Cheltenham, it could be a happier, healthier place.

Alastair:

Yeah, and I guess you mentioned the cyber park attracting people, I guess the infrastructure and things like that that’s going to have to be a big thing it’s going to be factored in tonight, isn’t it?

Alex Chalk:

Yeah. Well, infrastructure is essential. I mean, Cheltenham is a really interesting place. I mean it’s my home town and anyone who’s grown up around here has always been really conscious of one thing right? Which is that it’s very beautiful and yet it sort of seems to be a bit isolated in the sense that you’re neither in the Midlands nor really are you in the South West? You’re not obviously in Wales, obviously. You’re kind of not really in the Thames Valley either. So it’s a sort of strange place, but that liability is in fact, my view, it’s a great asset because it is beautifully positioned as a jumping off point for Birmingham or for Bristol or for Cardiff, the Thames Valley and all these sorts of things. And if we just sort out some of these infrastructure bits, like for example, access to Cheltenham off junction 11 and junction 10. And I know by the way, we just got a shed load of money to do precisely those. And you sort out the A417, I mean, Cheltenham is in an incredible position and why wouldn’t you come here? Why would you bother sitting in London where the property prices are so high, you get very little for your money. You can have fantastic schools. You’re on the edge of the Cotswolds. You’ve got a cyber park, you’ve got GCHQ here. You can go to Oxford if you need to. You’ve got Birmingham and Bristol all nearby. Great train service to Manchester and so on and suddenly it becomes a really, really fantastic hub. So I think we’ve got the potential to do incredible things in Cheltenham. You’ve just got to improve the infrastructure slightly and then people’s eyes are suddenly opened to this great place.

Alastair:

Yeah, and like we said, I think people that previously have been commuting to London probably will think, well, I don’t need to do that anymore. You’ve seen that I don’t need to live just outside London and pay through-the-roof house prices. And like you say, perhaps move to areas like Cheltenham.

Alex Chalk:

Absolutely right. You watch, there is going to be a new fluidity. People are going to be, their lives are going to be up for grabs in a sense, they’re going to think, hang on a second. I’m going to baseline my life. And to reset it, do I need to do these things? And I think you’re absolutely right. By the way, I should make clear, I still think that there are going to be some walks of life, even in the service sector where having that face to face contact is essential. I talked about Parliament. I really think that’s the case, but there are going to be other areas as well.

What is crystal clear I think however, is that those meetings which were a bit marginal, do you really need to go all the way up to London for that meeting? Do you really need to? That’s simply not going to happen. And there’s going to be no stigma, no sense of second bestery if you like from having a Zoom meeting where it’s appropriate to happen. And so I think that there’s a great opportunity for Cheltenham. You’ll need to have the local physical microclimate in respect of a cyber hub, because it’s those conversations in the tea shops and next to GCHQ or whatever that are going to really matter. So we should take advantage of that. But for those people who think, well, I’ve got to be in London because I need to have tedious meetings with whatever, it’s just not going to be as important.

Alastair:

So before I move on to the next topic, I guess there will be people who aren’t familiar with your CV, for want of a better word. So you were obviously elected as MP for Cheltenham 2015. But prior to that, you had 14 years experience as a barrister. Can you talk a bit about that role and your specific area of expertise?

Alex Chalk:

Sure. So I practiced as a barrister particularly in areas of terrorism, also in homicide. So murder, manslaughter, death by dangerous driving, all those sorts of blood and guts stuff and also serious fraud. I worked for the serious fraud office and the Financial Conduct Authority as well. And I mean, I always found that immensely fulfilling. I principally prosecuted, but I also defended as well. It was very, very interesting work, particularly the counter terrorism work and I found it hugely valuable actually in Parliament.

Alex Chalk:

First, because when you spend a lot of time as a lawyer grappling with legislation, it means that as you sit there as a lawmaker, you’ve got one eye on how someone’s going to end up having to use this legislation. So I remember being in a Bill Committee where we were looking at the up-skirting offense, which you may have read about in the press. And I remember looking at it thinking, hang on a jury is going to find this particular part of the legislation, very, very confusing. And it was possible to lay down an amendment to change it just to knock it into shape a bit. So, I mean, I’ve found having had experiences as a lawyer, it’s been really valuable as a legislature in Parliament.

Alastair:

And then how did you get from that into politics? Was it always something that you were interested in?

Alex Chalk:

I mean, I’ve always been interested in politics. So after I grew up around here and then went to university where I read history and then I went to London because that was a really good place to do law. I did a law conversion course and went on and started building my career and so on. I mean, I was always really interested in politics or kind of, I hope this doesn’t sound like an old sort of quaint old fashioned thing, a desire to sort of put myself among the great problems of this country and play a part in solving them I suppose.

Alex Chalk:

It was always something that I was really keen to do and then when Cheltenham came up in 2013, I suppose it was now, that I knew that they were looking for a candidate, I thought, well, this is my hometown, I’ve got to put my name forward. And I didn’t really think at that stage that I was going to get picked because it was the first place I’d ever interviewed for. And so I was selected as a candidate in 2013 and then after two years of campaigning, I was elected in 2015 against the run of evidence, if you know what I mean? So it was a bit unexpected, but it’s just been really fulfilling to be focusing on my home patch, this is where I grew up. This is where my mum lives and that’s what’s really motivating me, the idea of it being somewhere I’ve got a proper connection with. It’s where I live with my family now.

Alastair:

And your current position is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice. I guess that ties in with what your previous role as a barrister and legislation etc. With regards the justice system, how have the courts nationally and locally, how have they been affected by the lockdown and any systems that were put in place to help during the pandemic? Have they been working? Is there a big backlog?

Alex Chalk:

Yeah, well, look, it’s been extremely difficult. There was a moment where the whole thing came to a jittering halt. But the courts have been fantastic at responding and particularly prioritising some of that work which is extremely urgent. And where you require things like, for example, emergency injunction. So if you’re a person who needs to have a domestic violence protection order from the magistrate’s court, that work has been prioritised, if you need to get an occupational order or a non-molestation order, the civil courts are prioritising that. And actually, some of the private family work, that’s to say the child arrangement orders and all that sort of thing, that’s actually tipped up to a pretty similar tempo to what there was in the past.

The area which is more difficult are those areas like jury trials, where you can imagine you’ve got a load of people that need to be in the court. You’ve got the 12 jurors, you’ve got the judge, the barristers, defendant, dock officers, and goodness knows what and ushers. Getting that sorted has been difficult but again, the judiciary and practitioners have worked enormously hard, and I think there are three or four jury trials, which are back up and running. And we need to reheat this as fast as possible because there are two reasons for that, one, because you need to make sure that the justice system continues and people can get remedies and that justice can be served and criminals can be brought to justice and all that important stuff.

But also you’ve got a load of people who rely for their livelihood on this sector, getting back up and running. And if we don’t keep, for example, the legal aid sector in work, then we’re going to have a problem because one of the things I’m most passionate about is access to justice. It’s the sort of thing that people don’t think about until they need it and ensuring that people can go and get that access to justice means professionals doing that work. Professionals doing that work means professionals being in work. So that’s another reason why we’ve got to get these trials up and running as fast as possible.

Alastair:

And you mentioned the Domestic Abuse Bill. Obviously this is a very serious subject and obviously unfortunately lockdown has seen a steep rise in the number of reports of domestic abuse. Are you able to explain the background to the bill and how it will improve on what’s already in place and who it’ll help protect?

Alex Chalk:

Right. So this bill is actually coming under the third time of asking. So although domestic abuse is very topical at the moment for the reasons that you rightly point out, this is a bill that has been in the works for some time. And the bill does a number of really important things. First, it actually defines what domestic abuse is and provides a statutory definition. Second, we’ve got a new domestic abuse commissioner who’s really important in terms of shining a light on this issue, providing some coherence to some of the support services that have been provided and so on. But also what it does is it creates a system of domestic abuse protection orders. So that means that the police can go to court and ask for an order which might mean that a perpetrator has to go on an anger management course or whatever it is designed to protect the victim. So that’s a really important part of it. It also requires local authorities to have a duty to protect individuals who are victims of domestic abuse in terms of housing and other support. So, I mean, I’m not going to bore you with every last aspect of it, but it is an absolutely vital ground-breaking piece of legislation that is going to transform the climate for victims of domestic abuse.

I’m really, really proud of it and it comes against the wider context of what’s happened in the last 10 years, because before I was a minister, I was involved in helping to protect victims of stalking because there was a horrible case of a Cheltenham GP who was stalked and so on. And I was looking at the law before 2012, stalking wasn’t even an offense. It was just something that people laughed about, but it’s actually an incredibly serious issue and we now have stalking recognising the law. We’ve now got chunky sentences. We’ve got legislation about victims of people trafficking and so on. So this is all part of a theme about putting victims absolutely at the centre of the criminal justice system and ensuring that justice is served. And that’s something that I’m really committed to and I think we’re really delivering on.

Alastair:

Another hot topic at the moment is schools. I know myself, our kids are in the local school and they’ve been keeping us informed most latterly saying, if you’re not happy with what the situation is, perhaps direct it to MP Alex Chalk. Have you had much from parents saying they’re not happy with what their arrangements are?

Alex Chalk:

Yeah, I have had some emails, and I’ve also had emails from head teachers as well, who, I mean, I’m really not just saying this, I have nothing but respect for the way teachers have responded in this crisis because I mean, just leaving aside the sheer volume of admin and emails and just intensity of work that they’ve had to deal with, there’s been a commendable instinct to want to get the show on the road, want to get kids back in school and so on. So I absolutely get that.

There have been some concerns raised about whether this is the right date, from some people. Not from all people and I’m trying to engage with that and escalate those concerns which are fair to the DFE. But I think there is a general recognition that we want to get children back into school. It’s the best place for them. You’re all familiar with the arguments about how children from disadvantaged backgrounds fall behind and so on and it will be absolute tragedy to undo so much of this vital work. So of course, we’ve got to make it work in a way that keeps teachers safe and secure and make sure that the classrooms are fit for purpose and they’re not going to be overwhelmed and so on.

But I’m really, really in favour of us trying to make this happen if we possibly can and it’s got to happen at the same time as we’ve got a proper system in place of tracking down the virus where you have an outbreak, isolating it so that you can have this, what some described as a whack-a-mole strategy. So that if there is an outbreak, you isolate it so that the rest of society, including schools, can continue with that level of reassurance that if there is to be an outbreak, we can squash it very quickly without worrying about the whole of the town or the wider community coming down with it. And I think we’re very close to being in that position now. As you know, the prime minister said that from early June, we’re going to have this track and trace model and I think that’s going to make a big difference for schools.

Alastair:

Is it going to be a case… it’s difficult to throw a blanket over the whole country and say, this is the date, if, like you say, there’s going to be areas that are worse than others. So is it going to be a case that it should be looked at on a region by region basis rather than saying, this is the date and that’s it?

Alex Chalk:

Well, look, I really hope that all schools do their best to open in early June, but we’ve already heard, there are parts of the countries where the local authorities have said they’re not going to do that. And to be honest, I don’t really want to get drawn into the rights and wrongs of the particular situation in Liverpool or whatever it is. I mean, all I can say is that in my patch, in Cheltenham, the teachers are working amazingly hard to make this happen and overwhelmingly, there’s a kind of can-do spirit about this and I absolutely commend that. I think that attitude is exactly what we need. I’m not suggesting it’s without difficulties. I’m not suggesting by the way that it’s without courage. People are really going to have to … are showing the best sides of themselves, particularly our teachers I’m thinking of. And I absolutely admire that and I’m so grateful to them for leaning into this and wanting to be so positive about getting our schools open.

Alastair:

Excellent. And moving away from the current situation, you’ve touched upon the Cheltenham cyber park earlier. What’s the current situation with that in terms of development and the funding and sponsorship?

Alex Chalk:

Okay. So the situation with that is we got the money, the 21, 22 million pounds or so which was principally for doing the civils, if you like, the transport work to open up the access from junction 11, because you’d appreciate the really important thing is that that area doesn’t get snarled up as people go into the southern part, the west of GCHQ. So that work is, if it hasn’t started already, because I haven’t been down there for a while, it’s imminent, so it’s going to be done over the course of this year. That’s going to mean improving the capacity of the Arle Court roundabout. It’s going to be improving access to junction 11. So that’s all taking place. Meanwhile, the council is moving because the council have taken a big stake in the land of the West of GCHQ and they are now going out to developers to say, “how about it in effect? Who wants to come and help develop this land.” And I will be picking up with them in the coming weeks as to where that process is going.

But government is absolutely behind this in the sense that we were launching it at MIPIM which is an international real estate conference in the South of France. And you know, whether it’s the DCMS or it’s GCHQ, we’re absolutely behind this because we recognise there’s an extraordinary opportunity for us to play a huge part in this growing sector. It’s worth over 20 billion pounds a year and Cheltenham is very well placed to do and Gloucestershire I should say, to really benefit from that in the years ahead. And it’s a very exciting future.

Alastair:

Yeah. I mean, it really is. And I think cyber at the moment because of the situation and how businesses are going to be operating going forward, it really is going to be for the foreseeable isn’t it, constantly growing?

Alex Chalk:

Yeah. Look, we’re good at this stuff. I mean, listen, here’s the thing. So, when I was elected in 2015, which you talked about. But before that I’d been thinking, right, if I do get elected, what do I want to do? What is the point of getting elected? I just didn’t want to do it for the sake of that. I’ve got a good job, which probably pays me quite a lot more. So why do I want to do this job? And one of the things I really wanted to do is because I thought that there was stuff we could do in Cheltenham to really improve the lives and the prospects, particularly of young people and the key thing to me is that it was like GCHQ was staring us in the face. Some of the most brilliant minds, not just in the UK, but the whole of Europe particularly in this area of cyber. And yet it was kind of sitting there in splendid isolation. And my heart feeling was why don’t we do more of what, leave aside the politics of this, by the way, but what the Israelis do in the Middle East, as I say, let’s not get involved in the politics in the Middle East. But I’m talking about the way they use the state apparatus of intelligence, they combine it with their academic base and also with the local civilian infrastructure to create an extraordinary ecosystem. They’re sitting out in the middle of the desert and I thought, well, why didn’t we have something right next to GCHQ to do the same thing? So you have this vibrant ecosystem where the finest minds go in and out of a porous barrier, if you like, to GCHQ to develop some of that expertise and ensure that it can support local businesses. And the transformation leave aside, whether there’s a park or not, the transformation over the last five years has been extraordinary.

So there’s this local organisation called CyNam (Cyber Cheltenham). They’re like CyLon in London, CyNam here and it started up with meet-ups about five years ago, and you might get 30 or 40 people here. There was a recent one up at the race course before lockdown and there must have been over 200 people, 300 people. It’s massive and you’ve got great local businesses, Ripjar and so many others that are employing people. But here’s the important thing. It’s not just employing people important though that is. It’s great jobs. These are really well paying jobs with the opportunity for people to develop very significantly. So the UK remains, or is, a global leader in cybersecurity and this means that we can light the afterburners on that.

Just one final anecdote I want to leave you with. I was once in Cheltenham town centre, I was asked to go and see these offices. I thought, this sounds interesting. They were a company that works in cyber security. I thought that sounds interesting. So I spoke to these, I went in and it was a Microsoft office. I thought that’s interesting. What are they doing here? Well, it turns out that in Cheltenham, the heart of Cheltenham in a relatively anonymous building is one of just four places across the planet that Microsoft put their cyber security guys. So there’s two in the United States, one West coast, one East coast, one in Israel and one in Cheltenham. And when there was a defect and there was a flaw, a vulnerability identified in the Microsoft Explorer browser last year in September, where was the patch devised? Cheltenham. The patch was devised in Cheltenham. It was rolled out in Cheltenham to several hundred million people. And that’s just some of the expertise that we’ve got here. And when you combine that with what’s going on in GCHQ. Now, I really do think the sky’s the limit. You get the infrastructure going, people aren’t going to be in London. They’re going to want to hang out in Cheltenham. What’s not to like?

Alastair:

Yeah, good to hear. And finally, in terms of following what you’re doing in Parliament… I have to say Alex, you’re pretty active on Facebook. You do quite a few videos. It’s a good way of keeping in touch with what’s going on down in London?

Alex Chalk:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’ve actually been a bit rubbish over the last week or so. It’s just sometimes you got to take a breather from social media but I do do that. What I also do is I do every fortnight or so these updates. So I just send like an email update so people can read it at their leisure and also it means that I have a chance to pull my thoughts a bit. It’s not just kind of just chucking stuff out on social media all the time. So if people want to sign up those updates and I’ve got over 10,000 people on them now. They’re quite important way of getting local information. They should just drop me an email and I’ll sign them up and as you know, you can always unsubscribe at a click if you’re finding it boring. But it’s a useful way of people keeping up to date with what’s going on in Cheltenham, whether it’s on cyber, the Air Balloon or any one of the things that you refer to. So I’d encourage your listeners to do that.

Alastair:

Brilliant. Well, thank you for joining us and we look forward to seeing you in Parliament in just over a week’s time.

Alex Chalk:

Well, great. And thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. It’s been really fun.

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