© By @BristolPound
Today’s launch of the Bristol Pound (£B) represents a step change for the UK local currency movement, one which nef is very proud to have supported as part of our Community Currency 2.0 project.
The new currency is particularly notable for three reasons. Firstly, scale. The Bristol Pound is the first city-wide scheme in the UK – indeed, any primary producer within a 50 mile radius of Bristol will be permitted to participate in the scheme. Bristol Pound has the potential to become a genuine ‘city-region’ currency – joining up farmers in Devon or locally based energy cooperatives with a city of over 1 million residents and thousands of small businesses (350 have signed up already). Ecological economist Jane Jacob’s dream of flowering City-region currency schemes fluctuating against each other in natural cycles of growth and import substitution is perhaps a step closer.
Secondly, ethical finance. The Bristol Pound is the first UK scheme to partner with any kind of deposit-taking financial institution - the Bristol Credit Union. Many previous local currencies have struggled with administration, security and funding. Having the credit union administering the scheme will addresses these challenges. It also opens up the scheme to a more diverse range of people than previous currency projects. Every existing member of Bristol Credit Union (BCU), including many people who struggle to access finance from high street banks or receive benefits, will automatically be offered membership of The Bristol Pound. The project is a great marketing vehicle for BCU, helping it compete with larger banks for retail customers and encouraging more small businesses to hold accounts and get loans. Meanwhile, customers buying Bristol Pounds will know they are not only supporting local businesses but also helping their neighbours get access to finance at ethical rates of interest.
Thirdly, council participation. Bristol Council is following in the footsteps of Lambeth Council (for the Brixton Pound), and a number of other local currency projects across the world, by enabling participating businesses to use their Bristol pound balances to pay local taxes - in this case, their business rates. This massively reduces the barrier to entry for small businesses that may be concerned they will not be able to find ways of re-spending the currency. If Bristol Council can also find ways of re-spending Bristol Pounds – perhaps through paying staff or procurement – they can act as an effective clearing house for the currency and accelerate more regional production and consumption.
Here at nef we’ll continue to support the Bristol Pound as part of our to upscale and professionalise local currencies at both UK and European level; the latter through our EU-funded Community Currencies in Action project, of which there will be more news soon. And big congratulations to all the team down in Bristol, who have been working away for the last three years ahead of this historic day.