Our Bristol Pound Is Here

A few thoughts and ideas on our local currency from Sustainable Bishopston’s Martin Fodor
We have had a wonderful new local currency to help us support independent, local traders and the local economy since September 2012.
To get using Bristol Pounds you can either open an online account or use the attractive paper notes.

The new £B Notes vs Txt2pay

Some people use both £B notes and a web-based account. The advantage of the online system is a choice of electronic transfers (to add currency or to spend it) and the innovative ‘text to pay’ system.
This text option is a first for the new currency, and saves having to collect notes so often. To use the ‘virtual money’ you need first to open an online £B account (it’s done via their Bristol Credit Union partners), add some funds to it, and then memorise your pin number. Then it’s off to pay for your shopping by text with some Gloucester Road businesses like Joes Bakery, Harvest and Gardners Patch on Gloucester Road.
The 4 different denomination £B notes are very popular. They have beautiful, local artwork on each, and various security features,  and loads of people have been keen to see them, as well as collectors buying special presentation packs!
But the text to pay system is a great advantage. No need to go and change notes one for one from sterling ( at the Bristol Credit Union in Cheltenham Rd, or locally in The Gallimaufry); you can just transfer funds electronically into your account occasionally.

Are there positive and negative implications of the Pound?

There can’t be many many negative implications, though some businesses will find they accumulate more £B than they currently know what to do with – but this will of course help them to think of more local suppliers and transactions they can make within the £B local economy!
For food suppliers in the area near Bristol in fact there’s a special feature of the local currency called ‘Farm Link:’ they can change £Bs – which they may get from local restaurants and cafes using £B to buy fresh local food and other local produce – back into sterling that they may need for farm supplies or labour from outside the city without the 3% reverse transaction cost. Whereas city businesses that try to change £B into sterling will lose a 3% fee. That’s a real incentive to think of using the local economy. And of course traders can pay Business Rates to the city council with £B, or ask staff if they would like part of their pay in £B. Note the transaction cost is not so bad when you think that almost everywhere prices are marked up to pay for any credit card fees, and some traders charge way over the odds for using cards.
The advantages of the £B are many: it really helps keep money in the local economy and delays it leaking out to distant corporations, tax havens and suppliers we can’t relate to. It stimulates traders and the council in particular to think of ways they can use £Bs – this could really lead to more local contractors getting a share of the council’s spending power as they look for ways to buy in goods and services locally using the £B they collect from Business Rates. Obviously lots of us in and around Bishopston like to shop locally and support our independent Bristol businesses and traders – why else live near Gloucester Road, after all, if you want to drive to anonymous superstores for your shopping? But shopping locally with sterling won’t necessarily help stimulate further local transactions if a local business keeps getting their supplies from distant sources. Of course not all materials and supplies or business services can be found locally, but many more could be if we looked for them. The £B also helps build the sense of community that is getting going around the Bristol Independents’ movement too which is promoting local retailers. Not all £B traders are retail – some offer business to business services which could be very helpful to people with other requirements.

Why the Bristol Pound – will it thrive in Bristol in particular?

Our city’s really receptive to new ideas and full of people and groups who want to build on what we have and make the city more sustainable – economically, socially and environmentally. A local economy-focussed initiative like this fits really well in a city known for its strong social enterprise sector, co-operatives, and networks of local food, energy, transport, arts and other groups. With lots of local Transition Town neighbourhood groups, like us and Sustainable Redland active there’s already a supportive part of the population. The council’s also been especially supportive by accepting Business Rates in £B.

Is Gloucester Road a good place for the Bristol Pound?

Our wonderful high street is renowned as the longest, most sustainable high street in the country for its diverse, independent businesses. It should be a natural constituency for something that can help protect our local traders from the attrition of chain stores and big businesses trying to grab more and more parts of the local economy for their distant shareholders and globalised, anonymous supply chains. Using £B is a chance to show most emphatically that we want our trade to be local as far as possible, and our local businesses to do their bit too to support other parts of the local economy. Using £B multiplies the benefits many times as the currency goes round and round.

Why all the news about our new ‘currency’?

The real innovation, and perhaps the reason so many worldwide media teams arrived in the city to report the launch – from China, Russia and elsewhere, is that here’s a citywide, local complementary currency, and it’s got the innovation of a text to pay facility, with a web-based account option and no need to change notes to use it. There are several other currencies in Britain, and some very large ones with millions changing hands abroad, but here’s one thinking ahead to enable cash-less transactions at the same time the big banks are trying to do that.
And for a while there’s an incentive to open an online account as you get an initial 5% bonus on accounts opened via www.bristolpound.org.

Security features

All electronic accounts are managed by Bristol Credit Union on established and secure banking systems and it’s a regulated financial institution. You just need to delete your pin number so if you lose your phone someone can’t spend whatever you have in the online account. Mind you, it’s the same if you lose an Oyster card in London, or a wallet…. The paper notes are also highly secure with several features to prevent counterfeiting (much harder to forge than US dollars!).

Is it catching on?

There were already 300 local businesses set up at the launch and it’s rapidly grown towards 400 – with several more shops on Gloucester Rd in the process of getting ready. Customers are asking, and most businesses are responding. We can all play our part if we find a local trader not joining in by encouraging them and reminding them they could pay their Business Rates with £B, for instance.
There are also some special offers for customers using £B at some traders – these are on the web site, see www.bristolpound.org

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