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Near-Life launches pioneering immersive learning project in partnership with Greater Manchester Police

Bolton-headquartered EdTech firm, Near-Life, has successfully launched a ground-breaking immersive learning programme for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) that will support their work tackling Child Sexual Exploitation and protect some of the most vulnerable members of society.

The pilot was awarded £241,000 in funding from Innovate UK in November 2020 to accelerate the development of an interactive learning programme tailored to complex investigations – an area of police training identified as challenging and of the greatest need.

Working in partnership with GMP, Near-Life has developed a comprehensive course built using its Near-Life CREATOR+ interactive video software, which uses cutting edge gamified simulation technology. Learners have the opportunity to take on the roles of both officer and investigator in a simulated Child Sexual Exploitation case.

Each module features a combination of written content and videos on a range of topics from unconscious bias to recognising risk factors, conducting thorough searches of a missing person’s home and using the Appropriate Language Policy.

Each module concludes with an interactive scenario where the user is given decisions to make as part of a simulated investigation. Their choice dictates what happens next in the simulation, giving officers the opportunity to test potential decision-based outcomes around complex investigations to improve problem solving and decision making in a safe learning environment.

The technology will better track performance and learning based outcomes, supporting an improved knowledge base that will allow GMP to share best practice examples of how digital simulations can support learning and training for complex investigations.

“Through our work with Greater Manchester Police over the last 12 months, we’ve really got to understand, in practice, the potential that using a gamified simulation approach has for dealing with a complex, sensitive and challenging topic like investigating potential Child Sexual Exploitation cases,” explained Mike Todd, CEO of Near-Life.

“The benefit to using immersive learning is that it allows you to create real-world scenarios and environments tailored to the needs of the user and the business. Research published by OFCOM found that it can improve knowledge retention by as much as 90%,” he added.

Superintendent Gareth Parkin said: “GMP are constantly looking at how to improve learning to help keep our communities safe. This interactive pilot project with Near-Life, which focuses on a very important topic, is a key part of our ongoing efforts to explore new ways in which innovation can support our work.”

Globally, the immersive training market was valued at $26.05 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $463.7 billion by 2026.

Mike continued: “Undoubtedly, the learning supply chain is being disrupted. The pandemic has brought with it many new ways of working and immersive technology has been given the chance to really demonstrate how it can be a cost-effective way to improve engagement in ways that are customisable to the user, scalable and generate better results.” 

Understanding the Future of IT in Defence

By Charles Damerell, Senior Director UKI at SolarWinds

In responding to the demand for better digital capabilities, defence organisations are among many across the public sector to have seen significant recent changes in their technology strategies and investment choices.

This has delivered a wide range of benefits, such as enabling the sector to cope with remote working, increased online collaboration, and the adoption of efficient, cost-effective cloud-based services. It has also increased the overall pace of digital transformation—an IT modernisation process already underway, but which was given new urgency and momentum by the varied and complex technology issues to arise as a result of the pandemic.

However, this has also brought a collection of challenges, including how to balance new and innovative technologies with existing legacy infrastructure. As a result, consolidating existing and new solutions has become a key priority for defence organisations.

Our recent research focused on the defence sector has underlined the current ongoing opportunities to consolidate, automate, optimise, and improve tech-led process efficiencies, so organisations across the sector can maximise value and minimise costs.

In particular, the findings revealed there are five key areas where defence organisations must focus, so they can plan confidently for a digital-first future:

1 – Embracing the New Normal

COVID-19 has been an exceptional accelerator for many CIOs and IT departments, many of whom were already focusing on the next wave of the digital revolution.

Confidence across the sector is high, with 84% of defence respondents saying they are in a strong position to adapt their IT environments rapidly, as and when needed. Yet nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents believe defence is no further ahead than other sectors in its IT development journey. Organisations must, therefore, continue to take the opportunity to advance their technical aspirations to transform their overall legacy environments into modern, consolidated systems.

2 – Identifying and Addressing Risk IT Factors

Among the specific challenges presented by current IT environments, the interoperability of systems is ranked highest by respondents (51%). To keep up with technological developments, organisations have onboarded niche solutions that have solved certain problems but have also presented others when assessing the collaboration of systems and collation of data.

Unsurprisingly, security also ranks highly as a concern (45%), while managing legacy technology and a lack of easy oversight (36% each) are also problematic. Organisations have adopted new solutions as technological advancements have been made, but little has been done to manage the overall structure of this IT ecosystem, which has left organisations losing time to data management and consolidation requirements.

3 – Automation

Across many sectors, organisations are looking closely at the scope for automating simple or repetitive tasks. In defence, however, only 6% of respondents report all basic tasks are automated with staff thereby free to pursue more meaningful tasks.

What’s more, almost a third (30%) of organisations haven’t automated any tasks and are missing out on the efficiencies and staff productivity gains that could be secured. Encouragingly, however, 40% have undertaken a fair degree of automation and are likely to pursue further opportunities as they reap the many benefits it brings.

When assessing digital performance and the relative lack of automation, the research found 34% of respondents were spending a significant proportion of their time dealing with these basic issues—with anywhere from one-fifth (21%) to three-fifths (60%) of their time spent on performance problems. In addition, over a quarter (26%) reported they didn’t know how much time was being lost as a result.

4 – Consolidation

While IT consolidation is recognised as having many benefits for organisations, almost half of the defence sector have not looked at it as an initiative.

However, almost all respondents indicated they are either already benefiting from the solution in several crucial areas or expect consolidation to bring benefits in the future. For example, the ability to collaborate more effectively with colleagues was the highest-ranked benefit (96%); with organisations often managing several offices and supporting home working, effective collaboration is crucial.

The top two barriers for organisations were reported as the perceived cost of change (60%) and risk of service disruption (58%). The problem is, 43% of respondents either have no overall consolidation strategy or are unaware if there is one, suggesting this is a widespread issue that needs to be addressed.

5 – Security and Cloud Adoption

Despite the ubiquitous availability of proven cloud services across a wide range of use cases, security concerns are the main barrier to the adoption of cloud technology in the defence sector, with some 40% just beginning their journey into the cloud.

Only 19% of those surveyed had completed a cloud adoption strategy, leaving a large percentage without the benefits of a full cloud system. A fifth (21%) of respondents are at the beginning of their cloud journey and are looking for the best way to approach this process. Whatever stage organisations are at, it’s important they get the right advice when looking into systems and appraising the full range of public and private cloud systems available.

As the defence sector continues to focus on improving the performance of existing and new IT systems and infrastructure, organisations targeting their efforts to balance the requirements of these challenges will be well placed to succeed.

Synalogik raises £3m in Series A Funding round led by Bill Currie and former Tesco CEO, Sir Terry Leahy

Investment will enable the company to further enhance its software solution Scout®. A data aggregation, risk identification and reporting platform that currently allows organisations to more effectively carry out compliance checks, investigations and make intelligent decisions. 

Synalogik, the company whose Scout® data automation platform allows organisations to aggregate data, identify risk and create reports, has raised more than £3m in a Series A funding round.

The funding round was led by high-profile investors Bill Currie, founder of retail, ecommerce and tech investment fund, the William Currie Group and Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco.

Synalogik will use the capital raised to scale its Scout® solution across different markets and territories and to expedite the launch of additional solutions that have been in development over the past 18 months. These solutions will widen the application of its data aggregation, risk identification and decision intelligence capabilities.

The company, whose clients range across gambling, insurance, banking, legal and the public sector include Entain, Betway, Vitality and NatWest, will also invest in its people, research and development with plans to double the size of its engineering team and enhance its dedicated customer support department over the coming months.

Gareth Mussell, CEO at Synalogik, said: “The data landscape is exploding, organisations have unprecedented opportunities to make intelligent decisions based upon the data within their eco-system or immediately available to them.  Organisations are struggling to harness these opportunities and often rely on manual processes to aggregate data – this is simply not scalable.

“Scout® has been developed to overcome these challenges and it’s great to see that the potential for the business and our growing suite of solutions has been recognised by high profile investors such as Mark Blandford, Bill Currie and Sir Terry Leahy, as well as those individuals who have supported us from the beginning.”

“Closing this Series A funding round allows us to rapidly scale up our capabilities, increase our headcount and bring new and exciting products to market that will allow us to better serve existing and new clients.”

Synalogik was founded in late 2018 by a group of former police officers, barristers and members of the intelligence community who were frustrated by the inefficiency of manually aggregating data from disparate sources.

Synalogik’s solution, Scout®, is a unique platform that enables organisations to automate data aggregation from multiple disparate sources, identify risk and report findings in seconds.  Scout® supports users with regulatory compliance, anti-money laundering and fraud investigation.

“Synalogik displayed real vision in their plans for utilising data aggregation and enabling businesses to get access and assess data more cost-effectively, we believe we are investing in a really exciting company,” said Bill Currie, investor in Synalogik. “The potential number of industries that can benefit from Scout® is truly extraordinary with clear cut value for organisations across not just gambling, insurance, financial services, but also retail and marketing, among others. Their focus on being data agnostic, aggregating from the maximum number of sources, means they are able to give unparalleled insight providing a truly 360-degree view.”

Sir Terry Leahy, investor in Synalogik, added: “The threat from money laundering and fraud to public and private organisations is very significant and growing. Businesses are struggling to meet compliance standards and need better solutions like the Scout product from Synalogik which transforms the speed of data aggregation and analysis of risk.”

LINK Mobility gains a place on the NHS SBS Patient/Citizen Communications & Engagement Solutions procurement framework

Benoit Bole

NHS and public sector organizations can now take advantage of LINK Mobility’s leading messaging solutions

LINK Mobility UK is excited to announce it has won a place on NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) Patient/Citizen Communications & Engagement Solutions procurement framework.

Created in 2004 by the Department of Health and Social Care to deliver corporate services to the NHS, and a unique joint venture with Sopra Steria – a European leader in digital services and software development, NHS SBS makes life easier for NHS employees, patients and suppliers, and delivers value for money to the taxpayer.

The Patient/Citizen Communications & Engagement framework, which runs from 01 Nov 2021 – 31 Oct 2023 (with option to extend to 2025) is designed to enhance the interactions between healthcare providers and citizens, ensuring all patients receive reminders, alerts and support when needed. As such, the framework will let any NHS or public sector organization procure communication services from approved providers such as LINK Mobility.

In particular, the framework gives healthcare organizations the full confidence that they will be working with compliant, efficient providers that use robust systems and processes.

Benoit Bole, Chief Operating Officer for the Western Europe region at LINK Mobility, says that this framework award will help bring innovation to NHS & Public Sector organisations: “Innovation in digital healthcare solutions, including mobile messaging platforms and software, has exploded over the last two years. As such, the adoption of new messaging tools such as SMS and WhatsApp can and will play an important part in streamlining the interactions patients have with the NHS.

As a result, healthcare providers will be able to confirm appointments, send reminders and manage queries in a timely way using messaging services patients use in their daily lives. Delivering services in this way is also better for the planet and will save significant sums of money not just in time but also the overheads associated to sending letters and managing missed appointments and forgotten paperwork.”

Adam Nickerson, senior category manager of digital and IT at NHS SBS, adds: “The coronavirus pandemic has added to the complexity of patient appointments and waiting lists. Our Patient/Citizen Communication & Engagement Solutions Framework is designed to respond to the need within the NHS for better pre and post appointment communications, to reduce the backlog of urgent appointments and improve the patient journey, pathway and care.

“Replacing the Communications, Appointments, Reminders & Alerts framework, this revised agreement is for the supply of communication methods to engage with patients, citizens and the workforce across NHS organisations and wider public sector bodies. It provides access to market leading communication tools encompassing alerts, reminders and appointment technology that support healthcare professionals to deliver effective and efficient clinical care.

“Critically, with appointment solutions on offer, encompassing traditional communication methods like phone, mail, email and SMS, alongside appointment technology via digital first communication channels, such as patient self-service booking solutions, the framework ensures organisations can be more inclusive of patient preferences by offering them a greater number of ways in which they can interact, make and respond to medical appointments. In addition, NHS trusts can use the framework to commission Friends and Family Test surveys to understand whether patients are happy with the service provided, or where improvements are needed.”

For more information on how LINK Mobility can help your business or public sector organization visit linkmobility.com/.

Entries open for inaugural CIVEA Awards

Russell Hamblin-Boone

The annual CIVEA conference, which brings together leading players from the enforcement sector, has expanded for 2022 to include an awards ceremony for the very first time.

Reflection & Collection, the past, present and future of enforcement is set to be held at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms, Covent Garden, London, on Thursday 21st April 2022.

As the primary trade association for civil enforcement agencies in England & Wales, representing more than 95% of the industry, CIVEA encourages all of its members to ensure that Enforcement Agents (EAs) meet high professional standards. The annual CIVEA conference is an opportunity for members to network and discuss important industry topics as well as share best-practice and successful responses to common challenges and obstacles.

The CIVEA Awards will take place directly after the conference and will be accompanied by a black-tie dinner. These awards will reward exceptional outcomes that benefit local communities, especially in a post-pandemic environment, celebrating hard work in areas such as innovation, social value and maintaining high-quality performance in the face of unique obstacles and circumstances.

All categories are open for entries now and include individual awards for training and development, vulnerability support, innovation in enforcement, parking, revenues and Local Authority partnerships.

CIVEA Chief Executive Officer, Russell Hamblin-Boone, told GPSJ,” Reflection & Collection will discuss the huge strides that have been taken in enforcement operations in recent times, building upon the regulatory reforms of 2014 and demonstrating the dynamic and proactive support provided to central and local government clients, including responses to the coronavirus pandemic. We are very excited to host an awards evening for the first time as part of our annual conference and our judges are keen to hear about all of the forward-thinking, market-leading vision and superior service standards that enforcement firms continuously implement to enhance the civil enforcement profession.”

To register attendance at the event, find out more information or submit an award entry, visit the CIVEA conference website.

APT SKIDATA Launches ‘Parking-as-a-Service’ to Provide Premium Parking Performance with Affordability

APT SKIDATA, the parking solutions business, is launching a new parking solution which gives public sector bodies and private sector organisations a new way of delivering a hassle-free parking experience with high quality, reliable technology but on a monthly subscription.

APT SKIDATA’s ‘Parking-as-a-Service’ solution is a combination of technology and service, where APT SKIDATA takes responsibility for installing and maintaining the parking equipment and the operator pays an agreed, monthly fee for five-years.

PaaS instantly removes the need for capital expenditure and the fixed, monthly subscription cost is better for cashflow. All of the service, maintenance and software upgrades are included in the cost, and PSP and banking is also handled by APT SKIDATA.

Steve Murphy, Managing Director of APT SKIDATA, says the new subscription-based model gives car park owners and operators a cashless, pay on exit solution that delivers the best of all worlds: “Parking-as-a-Service (PaaS) gives owners/occupiers the chance to have the best performing technology for their car park where they might have ordinarily opted for a cheaper alternative.

“We know that parking is an important revenue generator for both public and private organisations,” he says, “but operating a car park brings with it a collection of challenges. The first hurdle being the initial capital expenditure required to procure parking equipment which controls and collects parking revenues. This no longer needs to be a barrier.”

For a simple one entry/one exit solution for a car park of 200 spaces, the monthly subscription could be as low as £1250 per month. The revenues generated by such a car park, however, could be as high as £16,000 per month, giving a return on investment of eight times the monthly fee.

At a practical level, PaaS is a cashless solution and the operator can configure the system to best meet the car park need. They have a choice of gates and barriers of different sizes, and ANPR camera mount and packages can include intercom, alongside a maintenance package and transaction (i.e payment) bundles. Once the technology is chosen, the customer is connected to APT SKIDATA’s cloud parking platform.

Operators can build on their current car park usage, potentially working with entertainment venues in town centres, or patient and visitor reservations in hospitals, by adding a reservations platform or by offering discounts on parking through validations. EV charging can also be easily integrate with the parking infrastructure to allow drivers to pay both for parking and EV charging in the same, single transaction upon exit.

A key advantage to PaaS will be the opportunity for smaller car parks to become more competitive within their locality, says Steve: “With a highly reliable high quality parking system that puts the customer experience at its heart, smaller car parks will be able to deliver the same levels of sophistication that the larger car parks are able to offer, but at a fraction of the price.

“Our Parking-as-a-Service has the ability to transform the way public sector bodies and owners of smaller private car parks see, experience, and procure parking systems,” Steve continues. “They will be able to realise new revenue streams, and provide a better customer experience without taking on a challenge and a cost that is beyond their comfort zone. What is required is a little imagination, and the willingness to embrace a new way of thinking.”

The risks of quantum computing: why governments need to protect their communications today

Alan Duric

Despite the buzz around quantum computing, the technology today is still in its infancy; to put it into perspective, pioneering quantum computing providers such as IBM will only be able to hire out time on a quantum computer to enterprises in the next few years, and the concept of ubiquitous quantum computing is still at least 10 -15 years away even by the most optimistic of industry experts. So with the rise of quantum and its associated risk being still relatively ‘far off’, why does quantum pose a threat to the security of data in current systems and why should enterprises and governments be concerned about implementing post quantum resistance security technology today?

The promise of quantum

Quantum computing uses the properties of quantum physics to store data and perform complex operations. While today’s ‘classical’ computers currently encode information in binary “bits” that can either be 0s or 1s, a quantum computer uses quantum bits or qubits as its basic unit of memory. Due to a phenomenon called quantum speed-up, qubits enable complex calculations or operations that would take bits or classical computers years to solve, to be done in seconds or tenths of seconds.

The power of quantum computing therefore promises to unleash a whole host of new possibilities. In the field of chemical and biological engineering, quantum will speed up modelling processes such as DNA and RNA. It has the potential to open up new opportunities in artificial intelligence; through combinatoric processing of very large quantities of data, enabling for example better predictions and decisions to be made from facial recognition or fraud detection technology. And in financial services and investments, where millisecond speed advantages in obtaining price information can be fundamental, quantum algorithms stand to bring significant disruption and progression in this field.

The threat to current data security

Together with promising huge progression across industries through enabling laser-quick calculations and combinatoric data processing, quantum computing does however have a significantly worrying downside; it holds the power to ‘crack’ even the highest standard of data security encryption codes within seconds.

Cryptography is at the heart of our global internet economy from online banking to guarding intellectual property as well as secure and private communications between individuals and organisations. As the fundamental security setting for government and enterprise communications, it plays an important role in national security. Ultimately, unless measures are taken to secure current data security processes, quantum computing stands to effectively unveil a wealth of super-confidential data, including government state secrets and enterprises’ intellectual property by making this data accessible when the technology comes into force.

Why should governments act now?

Industry experts believe that it will take at least another decade before quantum computers with very large numbers of qubits – capable of decrypting data security – are available. We are therefore far from a cryptographic Armageddon but governments and enterprises still need to be aware of the threat that quantum poses to data secured by current security technology and take steps today to secure their sensitive data today so it stays safe for decades to come.

Governments are already increasingly worried about ransomware, and they should be. According to IDC’s 2021 Ransomware Study approximately 37% of global organisations said they were the victim of some form of ransomware attack in 2021. And the threat of ransom attacks is surging. A report by Verizon ransomware doubled in frequency in 2021 and accounted for 10% of all data breaches.

However, the emergence of quantum computing presents an even greater risk. Ransomware only holds data hostage – it adds another encryption layer so the attacker cannot see the actual data, which means hackers can demand ransom but not sell the data. With quantum computing, hackers will be able to actually decrypt, access and sell the data, making these attacks more profitable for hackers and extremely dangerous for governments.

Ransomware aside, governments also need to act to protect their confidential data from other nations. Only last month, a report by Tech consultancy, Booz Allen Hamilton, Chinese Threats in the Quantum Era, warned of the threat from China in stealing high-value data, in order to decrypt it once quantum computers are able to break classical encryption. The report suggested that by the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals.

In summary, governments need to put technology in place that secures the data they store both for today and for threats of tomorrow. By moving to quantum-safe technology they can be assured that their data is protected for whenever quantum computing becomes available. But how do they go about that?

How to implement quantum-safe technology?

Many technology companies have been working on quantum-safe solutions for a number of years and are developing a number of diverse solutions; these include quantum key cryptography (QKC)  or post-quantum algorithms (PQA), where the principles of quantum mechanics are used to encrypt data and transmit it in a way that cannot be hacked. In reality many of these providers will update their security levels in order to stay well ahead of the threat from quantum computing, thus removing the onus of upgrading to quantum-safe solutions from their customers. However, governments need to ensure that the communications channels that they use across their organisation are ‘enterprise-grade’ and that they provide both sufficient security and assurance. They also need to ensure that employees do not use consumer apps, which do not have adequate security for government communications and which stand to compromise the systems put in place.

Already today, some dedicated secure communications platforms will have technology in place that offers a more robust protection against the threat of quantum. Such architectures could be described as being “quantum-annoying” since they would take much longer for a quantum computer to decrypt than a platform with standard security encryption. One important protocol called Messaging Layer Security (MLS) is being developed by the MLS IETF working group (which includes the likes of Oxford University, Facebook, INRIA, Google, Twitter and Wire and looks set to provide an important basis for quantum resistant technology. MLS is the first protocol to allow end-to-end encryption for large groups and thus breaks with the paradigm of a server-centric architecture, prevalent in most collaboration tools today. The use of MLS in collaboration platforms therefore will mark an important milestone in protecting data against the threat embodied by the power of quantum computing.

To sum up, the advent of quantum computing looks set to bring about exciting innovations across industry sectors but governments need to prepare today to protect their confidential data for when the technology matures. They need to implement policies that ensure their staff are using only ‘enterprise-grade’ platforms and partner with the technology experts who can provide the platforms to protect their data and offer governments peace of mind that the advances in technology do not lead to unleashing confidential governmental data or infringe on national security.

Alan Duric is CTO, COO and co-founder at Wire.

Investment helping tackle digital exclusion in Greater Manchester

  • New report from Virgin Media Business and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) reveals the “world of difference” a multi-million pound digital investment is making for local people
  • Investment is helping assist those at risk of digital exclusion, create local jobs and tackle homelessness
  • GMCA commissioned Virgin Media Business to connect more than 1,500 public sites to full fibre in Greater Manchester as part of the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme (LFFN), delivering economic benefits worth £11.8m in the first year alone.

Homeless shelters, schools and local people are benefitting from a multi-million pound investment in the Greater Manchester region, a new report reveals.

The ‘Tackling digital inequality in Greater Manchester’ report, published today by Virgin Media Business in partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), provides an update on the positive impact the business has achieved in Greater Manchester through its social value programme, as well as its ambitious plans for the next four years.

Virgin Media Business’ social value programme began in 2020 with the rollout of the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme (LFFN) across Greater Manchester.

The programme included a number of bold investments in social value initiatives that supported Greater Manchester’s Digital Blueprint, including a commitment from Virgin Media Business to directly create 20 apprenticeships based in Greater Manchester, as well as investing in digital and STEM skills for young people.

Focusing on a set of key aims – creating a digital talent pipeline, empowering people with the digital skills they need to access online services, helping Greater Manchester become a global digital influencer and in addition, tackling homelessness – the report highlights the significant benefits delivered to date after the business won a major contract to connect sites across the city-region to a new full fibre network.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “In Greater Manchester, we have a £5 billion digital ecosystem and we’re putting people at the heart of our digital ambitions. We are well known for doing things differently and collaboration is integral to what we do.

“This programme has brought local and central government together for a common goal, enhancing our digital capacity and helping our public sector sites to continue delivering the best possible services to residents across our city-region.

“It highlights the possibilities when private and public sector work side by side to level up our communities – from towns and cities to our most rural places and spaces, aligning digital ambitions to ensure that anyone, whatever their age, location, or situation, can benefit from the opportunities digital brings.”

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Virgin Media Business and GMCA have connected 15 homeless shelters, community centres and charities to its network since the project began and is providing free connectivity for local people, with six more sites due to be connected this year.

Community leaders have reported real benefits for local people, who can use the free connectivity in community spaces to access online services like banking and GP appointments, and have more opportunities to develop digital skills and learn how to use the internet safely. It has also given younger people more places to get online and complete their school work.

During the height of lockdown, Virgin Media Business supported the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, with a donation providing 567 school children with digital kit bundles to ensure students in Greater Manchester at risk of digital exclusion could continue learning when schools were closed.

Virgin Media Business also lent financial support to help tackle rough sleeping, donating £100,000 to the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity’s “A Bed Every Night” programme, funding emergency bed spaces and additional assistance for those who are currently experiencing homelessness. The report reveals its employees have donated more than 1,000 hours of time to support the community, including volunteering at vaccination centres and regenerating parks.

The partnership with GMCA has created new job opportunities and supported the community with digital skills programmes. More than 80% of the current LFFN workforce is from the Greater Manchester area, outperforming the initial local employment rate target of 50%, and Virgin Media Business has funded three digital skills programmes with the Prince’s Trust and GMCA.

St Johns Centre, Trafford

Alongside the achievements to date, the report also outlines how, over the course of the partnership, the business is committed to creating 50 apprenticeship roles, using an additional 4,000 employee volunteering hours to support community projects and helping schools to improve their digital services.

Jo Bertram, Managing Director of Business and Wholesale at Virgin Media O2 said: “Our work in Greater Manchester is not only transforming connectivity across the region – but is also helping to transform lives for the better, too. In partnership with the GMCA, we are supercharging communities and supporting those most at risk of digital exclusion.

“Whether it’s through funding projects to help those experiencing homelessness, investing in children’s futures or upgrading community connections, we’re committed to doing more for the people of Greater Manchester today and in future.”

Tina Harrison, MBE and Group Lead at Trinity Foodbank in Radcliffe, which is now benefitting from Virgin Media Business services, said: “If the last 18 months has taught us anything, it’s the importance of digital technology in helping the community stay connected.

“The work that Virgin Media Business is doing to give back is fantastic, and their commitment to providing connectivity, equipment, volunteering hours and more to help will make a whole world of difference to people here in Manchester.”

The Greater Manchester LFFN contract has seen Virgin Media Business deliver fibre optic connectivity to more than 1,500 public sector sites throughout the city-region. This new investment, plus existing local authority investments in digital infrastructure, make this the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme – underpinning a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects.

This is the result of close partnership working between Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Greater Manchester’s local authorities, Fire & Rescue Services and Transport for Greater Manchester and is backed by millions of pounds of funding from central government.

In March 2021, GMCA released a report which showed the significant local economic benefits of the work to date, with £11.8m of overall local economic value (direct and indirect) created during year one.

New research on strategies for town centres renaissance unveiled by Institute of Economic Development and Lichfields

Nigel Wilcock

A strong independent retail offer, a year-round programme of cultural events and family-friendly activities are the key strategies for underpinning successful town centres of the future, according to a new survey published by the Institute of Economic Development (IED) and Lichfields planning and development consultancy.

Whilst 92% of economic development and regeneration professionals surveyed confirmed that town centre vacancy rates have increased in the past five years – with 71% reporting that growth in online retail has had “significant influence” – a higher than expected 49% say they are “positive” or “very positive” about the prospects of town centres strengthening their position/offer. Within this, private sector consultancy respondents (67%) are more optimistic about the future than local authority officers (47%).

To drive footfall in town centres, respondents to this survey reported that leisure and culture (48%), food and beverage (41%) and independent retail (35%) are “very important” – and to repurpose vacant space it was independent retail (34%), leisure and culture (34%) and residential (28%) carrying the highest overall weighting.

However, when asked about underpinning strategies for supporting successful town centres of the future, a strong independent retail offer (52%), a year-round programme of cultural events (48%) and family-friendly activities (45%) are perceived to be “very important”. Also scoring highly as weighted averages are improvements to the built environment and public realm, and broader economic development interventions to raise the prosperity of the local area.

In contrast, respondents are less convinced about the effectiveness of current interventions in positioning town centres for success in the future. Whilst the majority rated business support to grow independent retail/food and drink offer as “very effective” (32%), only 13% said the same about business improvement districts and 17% about the various planning levers available to local areas. Enterprise arcades, with easy in/easy out terms, low rents/rates and business support, featured more prominently as a weighted average.

Overall, 44% believe changes in Permitted Development Rights (PDR) will be “very effective or effective” in increasing town centre residential development. A further 30% feel that the introduction of Class E will be “very effective or effective” in promoting a town centre renaissance. A similar proportion, 29%, thought that PDR would have the same impact.

Ross Lillico, Economics Director at Lichfields, said: “The impact of Covid-19 on town centres has obviously caught the headlines, but this has simply accelerated longer-term shifts in the way people use and interact with town centres. Both the Future High Streets Fund and the Towns Fund recognise that financial support is needed to deliver positive change by ensuring a greater diversity of uses and repurposing vacant spaces. The value of this survey is it provides on-the-ground intelligence from economic development and regeneration professionals on key strategies for underpinning successful town centres of the future. It suggests that practitioners do not consider some of the tools and levers available to them to be effective as policy-makers might have hoped. That said, there is clearly a sense of positivity in the survey responses regarding the future outlook.”

Nigel Wilcock, Executive Director of the IED, added: “This research has identified some clear priorities for the future of town centres and approaches to driving footfall, repurposing vacant space and overall place management. We have already run successful CPD sessions on the future of town centres with Lichfields which explored some of the issues and opportunities facing town centres as the economy emerges from the aftermath of Covid-19 and examined the tools available to local authorities to support their evolution. Developing the right interventions and approaches to delivering change were part of that programme, and with the knowledge we now have from this survey we will feed this into our next round of professional development activities.”

Countering Cyberthreats: Becoming Secure by Design

By Charles Damerell, Senior Director, UKI at SolarWinds

Malicious threat actors are now targeting software vendors and IT vendors in a bid to hide zero-day vulnerabilities in legitimate software updates. Since today’s digital supply chains are becoming ever more complex and intertwined, these supply chain attacks now pose a significant threat. By tampering with back-end systems and introducing a backdoor enabling them to compromise software which is then delivered to unsuspecting customers, these highly organised criminals can achieve mass reach and disrupt at scale.

Like many other industry sectors, public sector organisations increasingly reliant on today’s technology supply chains now need to take positive action to prevent these types of supply chain attacks. As well as taking steps to secure their own software environments and development processes, they’ll need to undertake a rigorous due diligence process when evaluating which software technologies are used in their environment.

Initiate a Secure by Design Development and Build Environment

The recent attack method utilised in the attack against SolarWinds highlights how organisations now need to go beyond traditional integrity checks and single software development and build environments. This should include initiating two or more separate environments and building systems featuring separate user credentials. This will ensure the integrity of each build environment can be independently verified, and potential compromises addressed.

Similarly, developers should adopt a ‘belt and braces’ approach, undertaking source discovery/analysis and PEN testing at every stage of the design process. This will ensure the build pipeline is regularly reviewed and appropriate security controls can be applied to every asset.

Adopt Zero-Trust/Least Privilege

Using compromised or stolen credentials to access an organisation’s development environment is the top approach used by cyber criminals looking to breach organisations relying on software as a service (SaaS) tools and platforms.

To proactively protect themselves, public sector organisations should implement stronger and deeper endpoint protection as well as zero-trust and least privilege access policies and mechanisms. This includes strictly enforcing requirements for multi-factor authentication in all environments and using privileged access management platforms for all administrative accounts.

Use Attack Simulations to Test Defences

Using Red Team vs. Blue team exercises to simulate full-scale tailored attacks will enable cybersecurity teams to gain first-hand experience at responding to and repudiating attacks that utilise the latest techniques and methods. Indeed, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recommends organisations take advantage of free-to-use platforms like the MITRE ATT&CK® framework to fine-tune their white hat intrusion simulations and find ways to disrupt an attack.

Perform Due Diligence on Suppliers

The cascading nature of today’s supply chain attacks means public sector organisations will now need to undertake detailed checks on all technology vendors. Ideally, every RFP or due diligence process should incorporate the following key seven questions to help public sector organisations explore and assess the security posture of any supplier:

1. What is your approach to the secure development lifecycle?

2. How do you secure software code and its associated infrastructure?

3. Have you implemented enterprise risk management (ERM)? If yes, please describe the programme.

4. When a threat or vulnerability is discovered by or disclosed to your organisation, what is your process for notifying your customers? Does this include providing details of possible mitigations?

5. What level of detail do your internal processes provide to identify internal threats? For example, which individuals were responsible for specific source code, software module, library, and/or hardware changes used within your products?

6. What are your internal processes to validate:

• Product changes against a traceable baseline
• When they occurred
• Attribute the changes to their source(s)
• A means to investigate changes without an established lineage

7. Does your organisation have an internal hiring screening process sufficient to identify adversarial actors, domestic/foreign terrorists, and/or candidates with criminal backgrounds?

By implementing a Secure by Design mindset in everything they do and establishing minimum security standards for their suppliers, public sector organisations can improve their overall resilience and confidently reduce the number and impact of supply chain attacks they experience.

At the end of the day, security is everyone’s business. Those public sector organisations that boost control of their supply chains and take steps to continually improve their own defences using secure design principles can minimise the risk of being compromised.

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