GCHQ given a deserved accolade
LAST week, GCHQ was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Cheltenham. This honour recognises individuals or organisations that have rendered “eminent services’ to the local area.
GCHQ (originally Government Code and Cypher School) was founded on November 1, 1919 and so is celebrating its centenary this year.
For the last 68 years GCHQ has been based in Cheltenham. As the largest employers in the area GCHQ, both as an organisation and through its staff and their families have over generations made a big contribution to what makes Cheltenham the place it is.
In financial terms, it brings in hundreds of millions of pounds to the local economy each year supporting businesses that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
But it’s much more than that as there are also many community and voluntary organisations that benefit from the time and abilities of GCHQ staff.
Historically the freedom awarded to military units gave them the right to parade with “drums beating, colours flying, and bayonets fixed”.
I know that previous recipients such as the Gloucestershire Regiment have taken up that option but I suspect GCHQ won’t be!
A special meeting of the council can award the freedom provided two thirds of the council members vote in favour.
I’m pleased to say that when I made the proposal to the special council on May 13 it had unanimous support from councillors, which was just as well since the award was actually made to GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming at the Town Hall later the same day.
But an informal process had been going on for a year or so before then as the last thing you would want is to embarrass the potential recipient by having any serious opposition.
When the idea was first discussed there were ‘”informal soundings” within the council which showed everyone was in favour.
Then GCHQ were approached to check they would accept it. This finally led to what I think is the well-deserved freedom award last week.