Saturday, 7 April 2012

Money, money, money

To cap off our week on local currencies, we have reproduced part of a blog Ciaran Mundy wrote recently about the Bristol Pound. The Bristol Pound is due to be launched next we'll all be watching that space when the time comes. Good luck Bristol!!

bristol street art

I have been helping to create a local/regional currency scheme the Bristol Pound. It is, in part, motivated by several key issues to do with the economy plus a few more, but also because I love Bristol, the city I live in, and I find my energies are more suited to creating things than fighting to stop bad things happening (we urgently need more of both). I love the spirit of the people in Bristol and crucially, the independent traders, retailers, artists, street traders, crafts people, restaurants etc. Bristol is often called counter cultural, and for me it's that which makes it feel so exciting a place to live and work. It's that counter cultural attitude that might just save our collective arse when the chips are down. I want my home city to not just remain that way, but to see a lot more of that creative enterprise and try and build some alternative means to function as the system we currently depend on demands an ever higher toll from us all. It may soon fail to provide for many people and then we will need to be skilled in organising a functional local economy if we are to avoid the most serious social fallout in recent history.

So, a couple of years back I decided to hold a seminar called "Money and Economics" (without any real expertise or connections). I posed a few basic questions to try and find out what to do about the endless push for economic growth vs the need to create closed loop, ecologically sound economies. A guy called Chris Sunderland turned up saying he wanted to create a Bristol Pound. The more I thought about it the more obvious an idea it seemed. Everyone who knows anything about the private banking system knows it is structurally designed to impoverish the 99%, so why not create our own system. But doing this at scale across a city was pretty daunting. We knew this would only work if we took the time to hold open the space for other people to come forward and offer some serious skills, ideas and lots of time. We ended up with a great team.

We have spent a lot of time building a strategy in Bristol and working with other transition initiatives, the new economics foundation, Qoin and others to develop an electronic 'banking' system that we think is a genuine alternative. It's called Monea and it already sits behind the Brixton Pound and soon, I hope, behind many other initiatives. I'm hoping this system we have developed can be a solid building block that allows new democratic money systems to spread across the UK and further, to other cities and places that can run a diversity of local to regional currencies at a scale not seen before. I dare not say too much of how far we might go for fear of jinxing it, but simple paper currencies are working well elsewhere: in Germany the Chiemgauer and in the US Berkshares where regional banks support them. We now have the technology to go much further.

In Bristol we have gone for a sterling backed model, something we felt was a necessary compromise in building the network of users to critical mass. We are a CIC and will run it as a 'Multi Stake holder Cooperative'. But there are many alternatives and it's worth really doing the some thinking about what it is you want to achieve in setting up a currency scheme (as well as all the other Transition style currencies check out Bernard Lietaer's The Future of Money, Peter North's book, Local Money, the Spice Project and Community Forge).

In Bristol we have worked hard to persuade our local authority to support the Bristol Pound, but the key elements we want in place first are having the critical mass of diverse independent businesses signed up to the scheme, and support from our Bristol Credit Union to handle the accounts. We have held many talks and meetings with local businesses and trader associations, in the council, community groups and activist organisations and of course the local press. But it's not just telling people what we want to do but asking for real input about what would work for them. It has been a long road to collaborate with so many people and there is no guarantee of success, but the prize is great - a currency can be a systemic driver of equity and sustainability. If it does not work at the scale we hope for? Already the connections and growing understanding that has been fostered along the way make it worth it for me.

We have learned a huge amount that we want to share with others in terms of FSA regulations, the compromise between open source development and security, the technologies behind mobile phone payments and where we can take currencies in the future. But most important we are learning how to organise and that as we get better at organising we can genuinely start to create and collectively run the economies that deliver for people Ciaran Mundy

Original post is here

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