Thursday, 17 March 2011

where now?

The Lewes Pound CIC (Community Interest Company) held its first AGM last night during which director Patrick Crawford talked us through the story of the Lewes Pound, right from the first small article in the Argus, through the spectacular launch, during the strange week in Septemebr 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the rest of the financial world seemed on the brink of collapse, and CNN had regular updates going out all over the world: Lewes launches its own currency.

A week later, and all 10,000 of the Lewes Pounds printed had been bought and swiftly put up on people's fridges and scattered around as souvenirs. Totally the opposite of the group's plan: to create a workable currency and to keep money circulating locally. The following week, the sold-out Lewes Pounds were selling on ebay for £30 a pop, amid rumours that the whole exercise was just to make money.

After the first year, about 150 traders were interviewed by a university researcher and about half said that it had made no difference to their business and the other half said that more people had come into their shops. The traders encouraged the Lewes Pound group to print higher denominations, which entailed another fabulous launch at Harvey's Depot, complete with pig roast, loads of stalls and even a specially written song.

Now, nearly 2 1/2 years on, circulation of the Lewes Pound has significantly slowed. Recently-polled traders agree, but are mostly still very supportive of the idea and keen to see it adapted or at least for other ideas to be developed to support the local economy.
The annual accounts were presented by the accountants Knill James, who'd done a lot of pro bono work and said they'd been quite chuffed to create the first annual accounts of a British local currency in well over a century. £5,000 this year of the £12,000 leaked funds had been set aside for a local project to reduce carbon and increase resilience but the CIC's call out for proposals had a meagre response.So the five grand will be put in the care of the Sussex Community Foundation until a suitable cause is identified.

The second part of the evening was a World Cafe session with three questions in which people were encouraged to discuss some of the issues around the Lewes Pound. Basically: What are our values? What's our vision? Where can we take the Lewes Pound next? Some really juicy ideas came out of the session, including the idea of a Lewes lottery; that it be used as a token; that it await a crash and be put into real use; that it transform into electronic form; that the council accept it for taxes; that it help promote development of new social enterprises; that it work with a credit union or issue microcredit. One thing was clear: it was so good to disuss these issues openly, though many more people should have been at the meeting to discuss the future of OUR money.


John McGowan said...

OK so let me get this straight.

It hasn't caught on and circulation is declining? Is this right. This is despite a quite a big investment of time and money. Also surely adding another hoop is a discincentive for local trading no?

Also even if it does catch on there is no evidence that it increases the take up of local products. And even if it does increase the take up of local products the gains in terms of carbon emissions are likely to be fairly marginal at best.

I'm left curious as to whether the resources that are being put into this might not be better going into something else that might do some good?


Dirk Campbell said...

As sterling is as much exposed to the imminent collapse of the international money market as any other national currency, to have a local independent currency ready to go into circulation which has already been trialed and is familiar to the community seems to me eminently sensible.

The purpose of the Lewes Pound is not to reduce carbon emissions - how could it do that? - or to increase local trading per se, but to confer resilience upon the local economy. The practicalities of issuing and circulation have been successfully tried out. The main question now is how to value the currency. At the moment it is in parity with sterling. If sterling were to fall precipitately in value, which is foreseeable, it would make sense to detach the Lewes Pound so that it would no longer share sterling's vulnerability to financial mismanagement, speculative bubbles, bank bailouts, oil price hikes, national deficits and all the ills that affect currencies worldwide.

It is not so hard to understand local goods and services being paid for in a local medium of exchange. We're just not used to it and, as we have discovered, there is at the moment no perceived need for it among the majority of the Lewes population. Which is not to say that there never will be. All the signs are that the global economy is destined for a long and steep decline caused primarily by failures in energy supply, banking and the ecosystem. The Lewes pound was created in advance of that decline and in preparation for it.

Few people appreciate or understand the capacity to see ahead. Most of us prepare only for more of what we already know. The Transition Town project is different; it is involved in planning and preparation for all areas impacted by long-term economic decline, not only in money supply but in all commodities and services especially food and energy.

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

Aside from its local impact, the Lewes Pound achieved huge positive publicity for the Transition and environmental Movements, both World-Wide, nationally and locally.

The take up may not yet be as good as was hoped, but to even consider that it should be dropped would be wrong John.