Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Keep Money Local

It might surprise some but Being Green can also mean not joining the euro, favouring localism over globalism.

A few towns and cities have gone even further and started their own currency

Plans are being drawn up in Bristol to introduce £1, £5, £10 and £20 notes which people could use at shops in the city which sign up to the scheme.

They could also use their mobile phone to pay for goods. The idea is to protect independent traders and to build "resilience" into the local economy so it is not at the mercy of the highs and lows of international finance markets.

Those behind the idea also hope it will keep wealth generated in the Bristol area here instead of being sucked into offshore financial institutions.

A local currency system has already been introduced in other parts of the country such as Brixton, Totnes in Devon, Lewes and Stroud.

But the big difference about the Bristol Pound will be the hope of using mobile phones to pay for goods.

Shoppers would just have to agree the price with the trader and text the amount to their account. They would then receive a text to confirm that the transaction had been completed.

Transactions could not be carried out without using a PIN number for security purposes.

Talks are already being held among the major mobile operators about introducing a national system for paying by phone.

But the Bristol Pound is currently developing the software needed so that any phone on any network could be used.

The currency scheme is being promoted and backed by a consortium of experts and charitable trusts which would run the scheme as a stakeholder co-operative.

This means a board would be represented by traders, users, the Bristol Credit Union – the bank supporting the scheme – and charitable trusts.

Any proceeds would go towards running the scheme or helping to promote it. If any profits were left over, then these would be paid as an annual dividend to users.

Ciaran Mundy, who is helping to promote the scheme, said: "We have seen schemes introduced in other parts of the country which have generated a lot of local civic pride and been an expression of local identity.

"But we have to be realistic in the sense that 90 per cent of
transactions these days are done electronically.

"There will be a big push during the next few years by the major phone networks and mobile phone companies to develop payment systems using chip or SIM.

"But we want to see a system developed which means that any phone can be used – it won't have to be a smart phone or one which is locked into an expensive contract."

He said the software system was currently being developed with funding from a charitable trust and with the aim of testing it out in Bristol later this year.

He said one of the main aims of the scheme was to protect independent traders and discussions were being held with them about the introduction of the Bristol Pound.

"We are hoping we can introduce the scheme next February," he said.

In order for the scheme to work, it needs to start with a critical mass of 300 traders and a minimum of 1,000 users.

Initially, it is expected that pockets of traders in areas such as Gloucester Road, Cotham Hill, Clifton Village, and North Street, Bedminster, will sign up.

But as it grows in popularity, then it could spread across the region.

Mr Mundy, 42, director of the charitable trust, Transition Network, said: "We have enormously long supply chains which are strongly influenced by the global economy which is fossil-fuel intensive.

"As the price of energy goes up, the supply chains suffer a knock-on effect because we are so locked into this global economy.

"But we, as individuals, feel powerless to do much about it except pay higher and higher prices.

"If we can make the local economy stronger, then we can protect and encourage local independent traders," said Mr Mundy.

"One of the ways we can do this and build resilience into the local economy is to introduce a locally-based currency because this helps to keep the generated wealth within the area.

"If you spend £10 in a supermarket, then eight of those ten pounds have gone out of the local economy because so few of the items on sale are sourced locally.

"If you spend your money in a local baker's for example and they source their supplies locally, then that helps to keep the wealth within the area."

The notes for the Bristol Pound have not yet been designed and there is bound to be a big debate on the most appropriate graphics to reflect the city's heritage and culture.

Whatever the design, they will include security features and are expected to be equivalent to sterling which means that if you use a £1 note to buy goods worth 69p, then the shopkeeper could give you 31p change in coins.

John Savage, chairman of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative said: "I think it's an intriguing idea which has been tried elsewhere with some success and I think it would be great to give it a go.

"It's imaginative and innovative and therefore worth trying – if we don't do imaginative things, then nothing will happen."

Trader Marcus Wells who runs The Bread Store on Gloucester Road, said:
"I think the concept is fantastic – I think it is just a question of whether it takes off.

"I think one of the reasons why the Gloucester Road is so successful is due to the independent traders who are happy to help each other and this seems a great idea to help us be even more self-supporting.

"We have about 600-to 700 customers a day and more at the weekends so I'm a little worried that the different money might be a bit of a nightmare but I guess we could get used to that."

Paul Wick, who runs the Southville Deli in North Street, Bedminster, said: "In principle, it looks like a good idea but one of my concerns would be that if there was paper money as well as electronic payments, then I would not have enough room in my cash register for a different

For further information, visit the website, www.bristolpound.org.


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