On May 21st the Bristol Pound, a currency specific to Bristol and the surrounding area, is set to launch. The money will have the same value as sterling,but will be used by shoppers, small businesses and traders for transactions remaining in the Bristol area.
The scheme as it will function in Bristol is new, and more advanced than its predecessors in places such as Totnes, Brixton and Stroud. Traders and customers will be able to use notes, in the denominations of £1, £5, £10 and £20, but will also be able to bank electronically and use mobile phones to pay for goods.
The scheme is being run by the Bristol Credit Union, which has the backing of the FSA (Financial Standards Authority) with the aim being to keep wealth generated in Bristol within the local area, instead of sending it to large international companies.
The project is being run by volunteers, and more than 100 firms have already signed up, from the Tobacco Factory theatre to Thatcher’s cider.
Stephen Clarke, a lawyer working with the Bristol Pound team, has emphasised how important the scheme is in the current economic climate. ‘We just want to preserve our local independents, and you can see how hard it is for them at the moment,’ he stated.
Support in the community is widespread, but some are sceptical that it will be impractical for traders and cite ease of use as the most important factor determining their backing. The issues of carrying two currencies and potential time wasted whilst learning how to use the system were also concerns among local business owners. Furthermore, some financial specialists suggest that while the scheme will successfully keep money in the Bristol area, it will not generate any further wealth.
However Ciaran Mundy, director of the scheme, is sure that the system will work, saying it will ‘Ensure the diversity of our city, which is one of the things people love about Bristol.’ The currency has yet to be designed, and the target of 300 traders and 1,000 individuals has not yet been reached. The scheme is closely linked to the University, as Mark Burton, a doctoral student of Geography, has been instrumental in persuading the Council to accept the proposals.
Furthermore, a motion proposing that UBU adopt the new currency, entitled ‘For the Union to Adopt the Bristol Pound’ will be debated at the Student Council on February 20th. The motion was due to be heard at the AGM on February 9th, but fell too low on the priority ballot. It aims to mandate UBU to full ‘endorse’ the Bristol Pound.