What’s best for you and other people, for the town, and for the environment?
Recently, the Transition Town Lewes (TTL) steering group was talking about collecting donations at our events to help cover expenses. Shaking buckets at the door was mentioned and someone said that lots of people don’t even carry cash any more because of the rise in being able to pay even small amounts by swiping a card. This gave rise to a lively discussion about the pros and cons of ways of paying and what they actually mean for people and planet.
The card users will of course tell you how terribly convenient their method is: none of that rootling around for loose change or having to visit a cash point machine; none of that having to remember a pin and type it in; saving whole seconds in their busy lives. You can’t help thinking, though, that the modern dash for convenience and more speed is at least a part of what has got us into these multiple environmental emergencies now rising up the agenda. And by buying more and more with cards we are making more and more information about ourselves available to the big financial operators like Visa and Mastercard, enabling them to more efficiently manipulate us going forward. The government too is keen to wean us off cash and would like to abolish it altogether in the long run because, of course, cash movements are much harder to control. They can feed into the black market and tax avoidance, which is bad, but they are also a more direct exchange between local people and businesses threatening the domination of the big businesses still in thrall to growth. Not forgetting that card machines make the margins for small businesses even tighter because of the charges involved in every transaction, thus threatening their very survival. Also, a cashless society would make it very difficult for people to come into business from the traditional route through boot-fairs and market stalls. If you lose those seedbeds, are you excluding future innovators from the economy? The other side of the coin is that big established businesses will never have an interest in selling cheap second hand goods, which people on low incomes will always need, and which represent the middle term of the reduce, reuse and recycle programme.
Now we come to the many people disadvantaged by this very modern way of doing business. The economically and socially excluded, the elderly, those with learning disabilities, many of them will be effectively cut off from this spending free-for-all. They may not have access to a computer or a smart phone. They may not have access to the kind of bank account that gives you free rein with plastic money. They may have difficulties in managing their money that would be made worse by the invisible and painless expenditure made possible by cards. And yet we know that in many communities – luckily not Lewes for now – it is harder than ever to access a cash machine in order to get sterling notes, so you could say that the banks are conspiring with the card providers and the government to drive the same people they have made poorer into the arms of big business and – potentially – debt collectors.
So there is a strong case for ensuring that we continue to be a society in which cash transactions constitute a vital part of the local economy and help to promote social cohesion. Sterling notes and coins are a big element in this, but the interest in alternative and complementary currencies around the country reveals that many people are looking at other ways to promote local sustainability, encourage actions to counter climate breakdown and celebrate the unique qualities of their own community. That’s why we are still promoting the Lewes Pound as a way to make money work better for Lewes more than 10 years after its original launch. The fronts of the notes all feature that great man Thomas Paine, who lived in Lewes for 7 years, and his quote – “We have it in our power to build the world anew”. In these times of extinction rebellion and climate emergency this thought was never more needed and the Lewes Pound aims to be part of the coalition to build a better world for us and our descendants. The artwork on notes marks local events like the anniversary of the Battle of Lewes and local developments like the Linklater Pavilion and the new Depot Cinema as a way of celebrating Lewes.
The Lewes Pound is driven by considerations left out of mainstream economics. According to the New Economics Foundation, money spent locally stays within the community and is re-used many times, multiplying wealth and building resilience in the local economy. Money spent in national chains doesn’t because it is mostly drained away to national and international corporations and their shareholders – the ‘leaky bucket’ syndrome. The Lewes Pound encourages demand for local goods and services. In turn this builds resilience to the rising costs of energy, transport and food. By supporting local businesses and goods the Lewes Pound reduces the need for transport and minimises our carbon footprint. By spending money in local outlets, we can strengthen the relationships between local shopkeepers and the community and support people finding new ways to make a living.
So, in conclusion, cards may have a role to play for some, especially for bigger transactions, but for a sustainable future we need to ensure that cash can continue to circulate within the local economy. Even better, we can use our own currency – the Lewes Pound – and spread its message of finding new ways to do things on our own patch, a message that can then ripple out to the wider world. Oh, and by setting up a standing order you can arrange to collect your Lewes Pounds from local businesses so no need to worry about cash machines going forward!
Susan Murray, TTL & The Lewes Pound