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Expert Comment: Bristol launches own currency

Tony Bradley Thursday 20 September 2012

Rev Tony Bradley, Director of Hope's Social and Ethical Enterprise Development Centre, looks at the launch of the Bristol Pound.

One assumption you might reasonably make about money is that it is common currency.  Paul of Tarsus had a point when he wrote that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).  Note the 'love' bit.  But, he wasn’t arguing for the abolition of a common currency.  Indeed, his basic understanding of community – as fellowship - was derived from the common (koine) Greek word for money, which has come down to us as 'coinage' (Gk: koinonia). 

You build community in the same way that you establish a common currency.  Which makes 2012 Bristol a rather uncommon place.  The brainchild of Bristolian Ciaran Mundy, that city's own currency, the Bristol Pound (BP), was launched at a local market yesterday on 19th September.  The aim of BP is to help local people to keep their money circulating amongst themselves.  Instead of exporting cash it is hoped that the local pound will stimulate the local economy, local trade, reduced food and transport miles, lower carbon footprints, more ecological and fairer trade – the whole 'think global, act local' shebang.  It is seeking to work in collaboration with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and their Good Guide Directory, listing ethically sourced business and green consuming.

Why Bristol?  My own research (from The SEED Centre, at Liverpool Hope Business School) into the distribution of ethical business across the UK reveals a number of hotspots.  Top of the list is Brighton, then Bristol, Edinburgh, Lancaster, Richmond-on-Thames.  And, the common denominator?  All these places have strong local Green Party or (yellowish green) Lib Dem (this may change?) Council representations, with Brighton in pole position, having Caroline Lucas MP for the Pavilion constituency.  So, what could be the argument against the BP?

Well, most alternative local currency schemes fade out after the first flush of notes has circulated (viz Stroud Pound, part of the wider Gloucestershire/ Cotswold 'green hotspot').  There are, of course, practical issues.  BP is unique in that it is available in plastic as well as paper, so harder to forge.  How does the tax on transactions get paid, without nightmarish VAT admin?  Suppose it does very well, will it float against sterling and the euro? 

But, perhaps, the major issue is that, in declaring currency UDI, Bristol is making a statement about community.  We belong to ourselves and not to the wider nation, with its bad bankers and unfair trade.  Which may or may not turn out to be a smart economic move.  Whether it encourages a wider national debate about local sustainability only time will tell.  For now, Bristol looks just a little further West than it did.  Scouse Pound, anyone?

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