Lewes, a small town in Sussex not far from Brighton, wants to introduce its own currency – likely to be called the Lewes pound. The idea is that the scheme will encourage people to stop money draining out of the town by doing more of their shopping with local retailers – thus bolstering the local economy, fostering a greater sense of community and even cutting down carbon emissions for good measure (because people won’t be hauling their gas-guzzlers to out-of-town superstores).
The move follows the apparent success of a similar scheme down at Totnes in Devon, which launched its own local currency last year. The Totnes Pound apparently works a bit like a book token – there are a limited number in circulation, and they can be used at a limited number of retailers listed on the note. And this in turn is an imitation of a similar scheme introduced across the pond in Massachusetts, where the natives can swap their ‘Berkshares’ for dollars at the bank (albeit at a 10% discount).
And you’ll be pleased to hear that this isn’t just local protectionism or a cheap publicity stunt – there’s actually a serious point behind it all. Like Totnes, Lewes wants to join the Transition Town movement, a campaign designed to combat to climate change and spiralling fuel costs. The idea is that by creating sustainable local communities, we’ll reduce our carbon footprint and reduce our reliance on oil (Lewes locals will be more sensitive than most to climate change issues, given that the town regularly suffers from flooding).
So all in all a nice idea, with laudable aims. Of course it's unlikely to replace proper money entirely in the town - after all, retailers can't use it to pay external suppliers and they won't be able to give it out as change half the time. Besides, if they did make it the official currency, they'd be besieged by hordes of unscrupulous currency speculators descending on the town, while the Central Bank of Lewes would be forced to ponder the moral hazard of failing cheese shops. Doesn't bear thinking about.
But for those customers who can be bothered to carry around two lots of notes, it will at least be a way of showing support for local traders (and if that includes local brewer Havey's, we'd be happy to sign up). And perhaps those Lewes residents with holiday homes in Totnes might even be able to work out some kind of exchange rate...