The Prime Minister will announce this afternoon that he has appointed Eva Culpepper as Minister for food, transport, and cyber security. Culpepper will oversee a radical programme of reform to security and safety in the UK transport system. The new ministerial post will be based in the Department for the environment, food, and rural affairs (Defra) but Culpepper will be working closely with Robin Tomaka, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), and will also be advised by Tim Young, health secretary. Culpepper is an unexpected appointment to the new post as she has no previous political experience on her CV. But she is regarded as a “safe pair of hands” by government and opposition alike. And she has a deep and unique understanding of her new portfolio.
When the transport crisis hit last year and failed deliveries left empty shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies across the UK in the wake of the ‘Spooner’ global cyber attack in November, Culpepper’s company UniMunde became a major player in the UK food industry overnight.
“It was a wake-up call for most CEOs”, says one of Culpepper’s former colleagues. “But Eva had already realised that the combination of just-in-time ordering and complex supply chains made UniMunde especially sensitive to disruption, whatever the cause. She didn’t predict Spooner but anticipated some kind of cyber attack was inevitable so she had back-ups in place”.
Spooner 11001 brought the world to a halt by attacking the sensors used for analysing wheel rotation in private cars, public transport, emergency and delivery vehicles alike. The attack was exacerbated by the fact that these sensors are produced by only two global manufacturers, both using identical chips, which made them easy targets for Spooner. The cyber attack disabled road transport systems worldwide and caused major problems in supply chains for food and medicine. UniMunde was the first supplier to recover. As Culpepper described in an interview at the time, “We had already worked out what to do when catastrophe struck, we didn’t just cross our fingers and hope it wouldn’t. UniMunde became the most reliable provider out there. And once customers were with us, they stayed with us: they trusted us to deliver”.
Culpepper is the 4th recent ministerial appointment to bring industry expertise into government. Following the transport crisis, Number 10 promised to take urgent action. Now we have Culpepper in the driving seat. Let’s hope we can trust her to deliver on this too.