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Bristol Pound: the local money-go-round

Bristol has been regarded for many years as being at the forefront of principled social and environmental change – but it’s also leading the way in the promotion of an ethical economy.

The Bristol Pound is the country’s first city-wide currency, as well as being the first to have its electronic accounts managed by a regulated financial institution, and the first that can be used to pay some taxes.

Bristol Pound – motto ‘Our City, our Money’ – has its roots in 2012 as a creation of Transition Bristol and the Bristol Credit Union. Users can sign up for an account with the Credit Union and pay by text for goods and services from participating businesses; but it’s also a paper currency, with notes designed by local artists, which can be used without the need for an account with the Credit Union.

There are around 800 local independent businesses taking part in the initiative, ranging from wholefood shops and cafes to plumbers, cleaners and accountants.  You can even pay your bills with city’s own energy company, Bristol Energy. There is very little you cannot buy using the local money.

Participating businesses use the currency to pay other local businesses: suppliers, utilities and services as well as local taxes. Traders taking smaller amounts use the currency in transactions with customers, as part-payment of staff wages, or to fund specific initiatives such as staff days out.

People can also change their regular currency to Bristol Pounds at a number of local ‘cash points’ (not ATMs but local participating businesses) and then spend the money within the city. This is ideal not just for residents, but also tourists and visitors who want to support the scheme.

“It’s more than just encouraging people to shop locally, although that’s a big incentive,” says Bristol Pound’s Adam Rich.

“We want to create a ‘circular economy’ in Bristol. Any independent business with a BS postcode (and nearby ‘primary producers’ such as farms) can join in, and work alongside suppliers and customers who are also signed up to Bristol Pound. This all helps keep money in the city and keep it out of the hands of multinational corporations.”

Now Bristol Pound, which is run as a Community Interest Company (CIC), has joined with similar initiatives in Brixton and Exeter to spearhead the Independent Money Alliance (IMA). Launched in July 2017, the IMA is a UK-wide alliance which aims to plug local activism into the wider context of alternative finance, linking those at the frontline of community economics with academics, think tanks, pressure groups and political activists.

Given its ethical principles, the choice of The Phone Co-op as telecoms provider was an easy one for Bristol Pound.

“The Phone Co-op is completely aligned with our values, as well as offering a great product and service,” said Adam. “We’re a big supporter of anything co-operative and plan to become a co-op ourselves eventually.”