Local Currency

So today I discovered that Bristol has its own currency, the Bristol Pound.


Yes, really, and it is all legal. Of course the city isn’t actually printing money. That would cause people in Westminster to send the army in. What’s happening is that a local bank, the Bristol Credit Union, is issuing currency that is backed 1:1 by deposits of actual Sterling. You can buy Bristol Pounds from the Credit Union using British money, or you can accept them in change from local businesses.

Why would anyone do this? Well the idea is to keep money in the local economy. Unlike Scottish money, which at least in theory is legal tender throughout the UK, Bristol Pounds are only accepted by businesses that have signed up for the scheme, and they will mostly be in Bristol. The catch is that while you can buy a Bristol Pound for £1, if you want to turn it back into Sterling the Credit Union will only give you 95p. The only way it is worth £1 is if you spend it at a participating business. So there is an incentive to keep the money in the local economy.

I have to admit that my first thought was that Westminster would still object to this, but in fact the scheme is based on a similar system that has been running in the London suburb of Brixton for two years.

Right now the scheme is very new, so there are no actual businesses signed up. Clearly the effectiveness of the project will depend on how many places you can actually spend the money. My guess is that this will help small businesses most, because the national chain stores won’t let their local branches participate. I will be fascinated to see how this goes.

The other thing I want to know is what the notes will look like, because the £10 Brixton note has a picture of Mr. Aladdin Sane. (Bowie lived in Brixton for several years.) I’m guessing that one Bristol note will have a Banksy painting on it. Others will show Concorde, Brunel and the Cabot brothers. I want one with Anastasia Sixsmyth on it.

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