The Bristol Pound: A local economic incubator

B£ 2015 (3d)
New edition ten paper Bristol Pounds (front) showing suffragette Anne Kenney. Portrait by Juraj Prodaj

Local economic innovation

It is also marking the city out as a leader in community level finance, and an innovator in local economics. The failures and remoteness of the mainstream financial system have created disempowerment among people and places; local currencies like the Bristol Pound bring back control, create economic systems based on values and show what the alternative could look like.

‘Through the Bristol Pound we can make our own future’, Sutherland says. ‘It is a tool for empowerment.’

A range of spin-off organisations and initiatives are allowing the company to experiment and see how far the currency can root itself, change behavior and build a different kind of local economy.

The Guild of Independent Currencies is one such spin-off. Set up by the Bristol Pound last year, is helping other cities to launch their own complementary currencies.

The Real Economy network is another. It has set up neighbourhood food buying groups across Bristol to link citizens with local food producers and stimulate community level enterprise. Modelled on Italy’s solidarity-based purchasing groups, members come together to source affordable local food direct from producers. A solidarity tax will be applied to those groups in more prosperous areas to help those in disadvantaged places get off the ground, Sutherland says.

B£ 2015 (3d)
New edition five paper Bristol Pounds. Design by Yoshino Shighara

‘It’s a way of creating community’, he says. ‘Let’s see what comes out of it.’

Perhaps its most significant venture so far is the launch of Bristol Prospects, a mutual credit network for small and medium sized businesses.

Backed by EU funding and a joint venture between Bristol Credit Union, Bristol Council and the Bristol Pound, it is aimed at helping small and medium sized businesses who either have excess capacity or need access to low cost credit. Through the network these two groups are brought together to offer each other mutual credit; businesses accessing so-called Bristol Prospect Credits are invited to spend them with other businesses in the network to the same value as sterling, or transfer them to sterling or Bristol Pounds after 120 days.

It is inspired by projects like the Sardex scheme, set up in Sardinia in 2006 to help local businesses exchange services and products outside of the mainstream financial system, and the Social Trade Organisation based in the Netherlands.

How far the Bristol Pound will scale up is yet to be seen but as it embeds itself within the city its importance is created, not through its size, but through the routes and possibilities it shows for doing local economics differently.

Clare Goff is editor of New Start magazine
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