Local bodies backing local traders


This article was first published in the Wairarapa News in August 2012

In view of the danger of local debt levels, it makes sense to ask what part our local authorities can play in easing the region’s financial burden. Its council is usually a district’s biggest employer and spender after all. Furthermore, the law specifically obliges local authorities to promote the economic well-being of their communities.


Mayors and local authorities across the country agree that fostering a district’s economic health constitutes core council business.


Councils have a long tradition of involvement with local pools: swimming pools, yes of course, and the occasional carpooling project. Perhaps the pool we associate most closely with our council is the local lending library, a prime example of a free exchange system run to benefit the whole community.


A council-run library is a non-profit service. Its expenses – lending stock, librarians’ salaries and database, office and building maintenance – are met by local rates. The reading itself is free. The opportunity to take out and return books without charge creates a vast turnover of information and entertainment within the district. If the local library were made a for-profit concern, it’s easy to guess that the service would all but die.


Imagine traders being treated like readers, your council supporting a local currency “library”. Just as readers may take out as many books as they’re inclined to read in a month, traders would be able to take out as much local money as their monthly turnover requires. The modest expenses of such a library – coordinator’s salary and office and database maintenance – would be similarly met by local rates. But the local money itself, busily stimulating trade all over the region, would be interest-free.


Then picture the effect on the district when the council itself starts to use this library – to steam ahead with life-sustaining projects, spending interest-free money as fast as it can reaccept it via rates. The employment spin-off alone from such turnover would be immense. Diminishing interest costs would free rates to fund local regeneration. Our children would no longer be saddled with our costly debt follies.


What would it take to make a council-supported Currency Exchange a reality? – to have councils appreciate the way such a core service would lift local businesses and the economic well-being of the whole community?


For a start, we residents would have to take economic well-being seriously enough ourselves to demand interest-free, non-profit alternatives to the currency of for-profit banks. Councils understandably take the lead from their communities and will sponsor currency pools when our districts start humming with such projects.


Local authorities in Europe and the UK are backing their own city-wide currencies to provide increased liquidity to local traders, accelerate regional trade, create jobs and help businesses save scarce euros and pounds. In September 2012, the Bristol City Council helped its citizens launch their Bristol Pound.


France’s sixth largest city, Nantes, launches its ‘Nanto’ in 2013. The initiative responds primarily to the needs of small and medium-sized service and construction companies. Individuals, voluntary organisations and the local government itself are all players too. The city authority brings public transport, carparks and leisure centres into the system and pays some salaries and social benefits in the local currency.


Not that we have to go quite so far afield for inspiration. From the heart of Canterbury’s quake zone, the Waimakariri District Council is supporting the area’s revival by following Wellington City Council’s initiative and backing a local Time Bank.


We can take the first steps toward interest-free exchanges by starting or joining a local pool. And we can ask our council – and each of our councillors – to

·         measure the extent of local debt and the rate at which money leaves the district as interest;

·         plan a progressive reduction in the level of local interest-bearing debt;

·         progressively adopt free means of exchange for all council business;

·         contract – and provide office facilities to support –  a Community Officer to coordinate local Time Banks, Food Pools, Savings Pools and other local currency and recycling projects.