It’s all about the money
The latest Trading Standards Workforce Survey has found that by 2016 most Trading Standards services in England and Wales will have had their budgets cut by an average of 40 per cent compared with their 2010 levels. The very same report revealed that the majority of respondents were being forced to cut some of their services as a direct result of their reduced budgets, with Intellectual Property enforcement highlighted as one of those areas ‘under threat’.
We at FAST have worked hand-in-hand with Trading Standards over the years, developing a number of innovative educational campaigns aimed at regional businesses, highlighting the need to remain software compliant. It is our firm belief that the UK must retain its strong enforcement of Intellectual Property law if it is to remain attractive to the creators of content and encourage innovation.
Trading Standards officers play a vital role in deterring the rogues who commit IP crime. But our concern is that budget cuts, in the form that we are now seeing, will have a dramatic impact on the ability of Trading Standards officers to do their jobs effectively on the street.
This report suggests that there will inevitably be casualties on the enforcement side, with IP offences likely sliding down the list of priorities. This should be a worry for everyone in the software industry. We need effective implementation of law enforcement measures in order to keep the market clean and to protect the knowledge economy. So to my mind this reduction in budget is utterly counter intuitive to the Government’s overall aim of encouraging inward investment.
We all know that there are virtually no government departments that have escaped unscathed from recent budget cuts, but it’s important that we do not lose sight of the larger picture of what is at stake here. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently reported that the IT, software and computer services sector accounted for the employment of 791,000 people in the creative economy in 2012, which is 31% of the total UK Creative Economy employment, increasing by 11.6% on 2011.
OK I admit, we do have a vested interest here - the UK computer software industry is estimated to be worth £9.2bn and employment in the sector has been growing steadily. But I would argue that this growth depends upon strong Intellectual Property protection and enforcement, without which, the industry is bound to suffer.
So it is vital that we maintain the strength and integrity of enforcement agencies, such as Trading Standards, to challenge the sale of counterfeit software and limit any negative effects on the broader economy.