Sun, Aug 19, 2012 - Page 14 News List

British city goes rogue with own currency

By Judith Evans  /  AFP, BRISTOL, England

A handout photo obtained from the “The Bristol Pound” on Tuesday shows four specimen banknotes created by businesses in the English city of Bristol.

Photo: AFP

As Britain loses faith in its banks and feels shockwaves from the euro crisis, one city is trying to keep local wealth in local pockets with the launch of its own currency.

The Bristol pound — usable only with member businesses in the city in southwest England — is to launch next month, and organizers are deluged with local firms wanting to sign up.

“The perception of banking and money is that it’s a very ruthless system: People are out for what they can get,” cofounder Ciaran Mundy said.

“This is about saying yes to something new. It’s tapping into a different set of values about money,” he said.

The scheme has “captured people’s imaginations,” he added, in a recession-hit year when British banks have been beset by scandals and ministers talked openly of a possible euro collapse.

Hundreds of businesses have joined — from the acclaimed Arnolfini arts center to the Chandos deli chain — and the launch had to be postponed from May to Sept. 19 because of the level of interest.

Security professional Richard Wright signed up his company Wright Guard as soon as he heard about the Bristol pound, hoping it would help him fight back against encroaching security giants.

“I’m Bristol born and bred, and I always want to support local businesses,” he said. “I’ll want to keep the Bristol pound flowing.”

The notes feature symbols of local pride from 19th-century religious writer Hannah More to the Concorde aircraft, partly developed in Bristol, and images of the St Paul’s Carnival Caribbean street festival.

Evoking a long history of dissent, one side of the £5 note shows a tiger writing on a wall in graffiti: “O Liberty!”

Other British towns have launched local currencies, but Bristol, home to half a million people, is the first big city and its scheme is ambitious.

Businesses can pay local taxes in Bristol pounds and the council has offered its 17,000 staff the option of receiving part of their pay in the currency.

Mundy’s team — funded initially by grants — have designed an electronic system for payments by text message, plus what they say are forgery-proof notes.

Stores selling products from cider to skate shoes said they were considering joining the scheme, which Mundy believes will have a tangible economic effect.

“Eighty percent of the money leaves the area if it is spent with a multinational — but 80 percent stays if it is spent at a local trader,” he said.

Such localism might seem strange in a city that grew to prosperity as an international port and is now a center for aircraft manufacture.

However, Bristol is also a left-wing haven with an activist tradition. The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, an urban renewal group, made headlines last year with a campaign that became a riot in protest at the opening of a Tesco supermarket.

They have greeted the Bristol pound warmly.

“We need to run things from the bottom up and from the grassroots, so that people have control over how things happen where they live,” spokesman Chris Chalkley said.

However, Louisa Jones and Joh Rindom, co-owners of Stokes Croft vintage clothing store Shop Dutty, thought the scheme would just add to their administrative burden.

“We’re skeptical that having a microeconomy within a macroeconomy is a bit backward,” Rindom said.

Ben Yearsley, investment manager at Bristol-based financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown, also won’t be rushing to convert his sterling.

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