Complexity or resilience?

In the Times, Ed Conway (right), economics editor of Sky News, describes problems arising from the complexity of ‘the hallmark of 21st-century life’ and the International Alliance for Localization records examples of new modes of development and progress.

Conway writes about the vast supply chains, financial instruments and legal structures ‘sitting beneath every industry’:

  • Where once a company made its products in one country, these days most sophisticated goods are the product of many hundreds of contractors from around the world, eventually assembled into one unit and quickly shipped to your door.
  • Where once a bank manager would know to whom he lent money, these days debts can be packaged and repackaged so many times that the link between borrower and lender is effectively lost.
  • Financial globalisation — the ability to move money seamlessly from country to country leaves countries even more vulnerable to banking crises.
  • And in much the same way as companies outsource non-core production and services, the public sector delegates responsibilities to private operators.
  • By replacing tightly knit relationships with impersonal complex structures we lost something — consider the 2008 financial crisis,

The complexity of the regulatory system played a part in the Grenfell Tower disaster tragedy. Not only were regulations extensive yet oddly vague — allowing builders to use various loopholes — they were not even checked by government officials. These days contractors in England can instead hire “approved inspectors”, private outfits which provide a bit of advice and tick the appropriate boxes.

Globalisation, once a means of boosting everyone’s income, has instead evolved into an excellent vehicle to help the rich get richer.

The International Alliance for Localization sees that the building of more resilient economies will require a rethinking of the financial system, and its Planet Local series has been turning the spotlight on some inspiring examples of ethical banking:

* In Maine, USA, a local resident with money to invest  is providing nearby small farmers with loans whose interest is paid exclusively in the form of farm products.

* Brazil’s Banco Palmas, governed and managed by residents of the impoverished Palmeiras neighborhood in the city of Fortaleza, has issued a local currency, dramatically shifted spending patterns to keep money circulating locally, and extended basic financial services to people shut out of the mainstream banking system.

* In Croatia, the democratically-owned Ebanka functions as a non-profit bank, in stark contrast to most financial institutions worldwide. Their loans are given without interest, and every member has an equal voice when it comes to voting on big decisions, regardless of the value of their deposit.?

Visit IAL’s growing library of localization initiatives

 

LWM is a member of IAL, a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs from 58 different countries.

 

 

 

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Financial tools supporting the local economy: the world’s first crowd-funded fee free payment app

“There seems be a real appetite among consumers to buy from independent retailers and support community shopping”

droplet header

Those who have been expressing interest in Localise West Midlands’s involvement with a future Birmingham Pound will also read the Birmingham Press account of Birmingham’s Droplet a mobile app born in Birmingham promising a ‘customer loyalty revolution’.

droplet snapshot 1a brum

The Press reports: “Droplet, the brainchild of tech entrepreneurs Steffan Aquarone and Will Grant, has used £575,000 of Crowdfunding to take the world’s first fee free payment app into eight cities across the UK. More than 300 independent retailers across Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Norwich are now accepting transactions by using the simple mobile app . . . The first eight cities have been chosen due to their vibrant independent scenes and their willingness to embrace new idea. Local ambassadors, who are well known in the community, have been appointed in each location to work with merchants to introduce the technology and grow the Droplet brand organically. With user numbers now over 23,000, there are plans already in place to build on the initial rollout by targeting another ten cities in 2016.

Will Grant says: “Birmingham is still a critically important city for us. This is where the Droplet story all began and we have just strengthened our team here to include new ambassador Laura Patricia Jones. She will be charged with building on our existing merchant base of 35 retailers and growing our user numbers in the city.”

droplet snapshot 3 brum

Using Droplet is simple for the consumer, just tap ‘pay here’ when entering a registered outlet for the first time and the payment is taken directly from your chosen card – you’ll get a notification on your phone to show how much you’ve been charged and the reward stamps you’ve earned.


For further information, please visit www.dropletpay.com follow @dropletpay on twitter or watch the launch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzG1cO1-jXA

Bristol Pound – Birmingham Pound?

In March LWM’s co-ordinator reported the local interest in the potential of a Birmingham Pound – the Birmingham Mail following up one tweet about a first-stage meeting of a few potentially interested people. News of an increasingly well-developed scheme in Bristol gives an insight into the role of a local currency.

bristol poundThe Financial Times reported recently that theBristol poundis beginning to take root and ‘count’ in the local economy.

There are now about 1,200 members with Bristol pound accounts. Around 900 businesses in the city accept the currency including:

  • the local bus company which accepts Bristol pounds;
  • the council which accepts the local currency for council tax;
  • Good Energy, which takes the local currency as means of payment;
  • Yurt Lush, a Mongolian themed restaurant, which this month became the first business to pay its electricity bill using Bristol Pounds;
  • the council which will give staff who opt for this, all or part of their salary in Bristol pounds; George Ferguson, the mayor, is paid in the currency.

The Bristol Pound was launched in 2012 to support local business and reduce the environmental impact of long supply chains. There are notes of £1, £5, £10 and £20 denominations and someone opening an account with the Bristol Credit Union deposits sterling and is credited with an equal number of Bristol pounds. This money can be cashed, or drawn on electronically to pay bills online or via a mobile phone.

A case history from the FT:

bristol pound case history

The organisers say because the credit union is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, Bristol pound deposits will enjoy the same protection as an ordinary bank account.


Read the article here – free registration: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4fe13c82-31e8-11e5-91ac-a5e17d9b4cff.html

 

Event: Guild of Independent Currencies: June Meetup

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Date: 15th June 2015
Time: 9:30am to 5pm
Where: Exeter Quaker Meeting House. Wynards Lane EX2 4HU
Cost: £5 includes lunch and refreshments

The Guild of Independent Currencies has been created by the Bristol Pound (covered on sister site in 2013) to help others to launch their own independent currencies, supporting them through shared technology, best practice and with anything else they may need. Read more here: http://guildofindependentcurrencies.org/

bristol pound

(Covered on sister site in 2013) Bristol Pound director Chris Sunderland explains that “Most of the money spent in a city, leaves almost as soon as it’s spent. It goes up to the financial institutions and gets lost. What people can be sure of with Bristol Pounds is that they’re circulating in the city and that’s where they’ll stay.”

Around 650,000 Bristol Pounds are in circulation and more than 750 local businesses use the scheme. Inspired by Bristol Pound’s success, locations including Cardiff, Bath and Kingston are considering starting their own scheme. Local currencies also exist in Totnes, Stroud, Lewes and Brixton.

If you are interested in local currencies, thinking of setting one up in your local area or currently engaged in trying to make one work, then Exeter is the place to be at the moment. This September they will launch their own currency and preparations are in full swing, come and meet the team at our June Meet Up and find out how they are getting on.

Agenda (Draft)

We’re packing it in for a fun and informative day! All the information and help you need for your local scheme plus swap tips and stories about how you are making it happen.

9:30 Arrive, Coffee, Mingle
10:00 Welcome to conference from Exeter Pound, practical info
10:10 Keynote Chris Sunderland, Founder Director Bristol Pound CIC
10:30 Introductions and updates from currency schemes attending
11:00 Workshop: Community and trader engagement
11:30 Tea Break
12:00 Workshop: Institutional Engagement and Procurement
12:30 Workshop: Legal and Regulatory Issues, including Credit Union involvement
13:00 Lunch provided by Real Food Cooperative
14:00 Printed Currencies Presentation Brian Kenworthy, Orion Security Print
14:30 Workshop: Technical Developments
15:00 Open Space Discussions – topics to be decided throughout the day
16:30 Guild of Independent Currencies – Next steps
17:00 Close

Limited places available so don’t miss out by booking now!

Booking: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/meetup-june-2015-tickets-16875566273

 

Is a quiet political revolution getting under way?

As the old order with its class and gender hierarchies gave way, George Monbiot points out that the void filled with junk could have been occupied by a better society, built on mutual support and connectedness, without the stifling stratification of the old order.

The feast to which we were invited is only for the few’

foe logoInstead, as the developed world – saturated with advertising, the handmaiden of market fundamentalism – became reliant on rising consumption to avert economic collapse, he notes that Friends of the Earth has begun to explore how we might reconnect with each other and with the natural world. New models for urban living are based on sharing rather than competitive consumption:

  • the sharing of cars and appliances and tools,
  • of money (through credit unions and micro-finance) and power.
  • community-led decision-making, over transport, planning and, perhaps, rent levels, minimum and maximum wages,
  • municipal budgets and taxation.

Such initiatives, facilitated by the state can bring people together with a sense of shared purpose, ownership and mutual support that centralised decision-making can never provide. But in some areas, non-party political movements are achieving this without that elusive government facilitation

Independents

Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome
Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome

Today, a neighbour gave the writer a cutting about Frome’s declaration of independence.

This Somerset market town has developed “flatpack democracy”, taking political power at a local level and enabling people to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.”

Independents for Frome took all 17 seats on Frome’s town council, with vote-shares as high as 70%, and support from people who cast their other votes for the main political parties.  

Localism in action

Though local Conservatives were convinced that austerity had to apply even at the most local level, the council has borrowed around £750,000 to invest in buildings and land:

  • green spaces have been spruced up
  • game-changing help has been given to the local credit union
  • he council is involved in a new renewable energy cooperative,
  • and has put money into the setting up of a new “share shop”

In Devon the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett says the town is ”a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” After fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents stood for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”. One of the catalysts, she says, was a box of 10 copies of the Flatpack Democracy booklet, which was brought in by one of her colleagues. On 7 May, they also took nine of 12 seats, and started running the show.

Flatpack Democracy ideas are being shared with other groups in Devon and Somerset and though people in Alderley Edge, Cheshire were not aware of developments in the West Country, their thinking is much the same: as one newly elected councillor, Mike Dudley-Jones, said: “our basic mantra is that there is no place for mainstream party politics at this level”.

On election day, Conservatives lost all nine of the parish council’s seats to this group – Alderley Edge First – which also took the village’s one seat on Cheshire East council.

Community energy solutions: Plymouth

In 2012 Plymouth’s co-operative city council established a Low Carbon City Team, which helped to identify the city’s potential for community energy solutions and forge partnerships. The council funded pre-development, initial community engagement and business plan development.

plymouth bencom header

In 2013 it joined forces with local residents to form Plymouth Energy Community (PEC) which then set up a second Industrial & Provident community benefit society (Bencom), PEC Renewables, to fund and manage renewable energy installations. PEC has 850 members, 95% of whom are local residents, and the number is rising, with more joining as the current share offer progresses.

Marie-Claire Kidd reports that Plymouth’s energy future is changing. PEC Renewables launched its first share offer in February 2014. It closed after seven weeks, oversubscribed at £602,000, with 144 investor members, around half of them local. This enabled it to install free solar photovoltaics on 18 schools and three community buildings between May and November 2014.

pec investors

The installations, which collectively represent 0.78 megawatts, are now generating half-price electricity for their community building hosts. Surplus electricity is sold to the grid. The bencom also receives income in the form of a government subsidy, via the Feed-in Tariff.

PEC Renewables launched its second community share offer this February, this time with a £950,000 target. It will fund more free solar photovoltaics, and bring the bencom’s community fund to more than £1.2m. It is forecasting a return of up to 6% for members, which rises to 10.5% including tax relief. The offer, which closes on 5 May, has already raised £510,000.

midland house council offices plymouth

Plymouth’s largest solar roof will be installed on Plymouth Life Centre, a diving centre and one of the busiest leisure centres in the country, and there will be solar panels on four more schools, bringing the total to 1.3MW. (Above: panels on Midland House, a Plymouth council office)

Plymouth has 11,500 households in fuel poverty – 10% of its population – and an energy-inefficient housing stock. The city council has produced a plan to reduce emissions from the council estate by 20% by 2015 and reduce citywide emissions by 30% by 2020.

One of its main aims is to help local people to understand their energy options, so it is promoting grant schemes for free cavity and loft insulation and subsidised external wall insulation, offering savings of around £260 per household per year. It has also provided energy tariff advice for over 600 households, offering average savings of £180 per year.

PEC Renewables’ community fund is being used to tackle the challenges of rising energy costs, fuel poverty and climate change. Projects include PEC’s fuel debt advice service, which has helped local residents clear £55,000 of energy bill arrears in the last 10 months, and its energy team, which trains volunteers to provide free home energy advice to at-risk households.

 

To learn about Plymouth’s plans for the future, read Ms Kidd’s article.

Syriza MPs help to promote the social economy by donating 10-20% of their wage

anca voinea co-opIn a Co-operative News article, Anca Voinea notes that  Syriza has highlighted the importance of reviving the co-op movement, seeing it as a distinct economic model that would be part of their movement for a broader social and solidarity economy.

Syriza had shown interest in the movement over the last two years and is preparing for new legislation to support co-operative principles, promote co-operative education, transfer of companies to the workers and establish co-operatives of similar standards to those in Latin America and France.

syriza2

 

When incoming prime minister Alexis Tsipras (above) presented his agenda to parliament, he made a commitment to growing the social economy, including co-ops. Syriza has now launched a public consultation to gather opinions about the promotion of the social economy.

VioMe in Thessaloniki went bankrupt and the workers, who had not been paid for over a year, occupied the building to prevent the owner from taking away the machinery and products in stock. The factory is now in public administration and the workers are fighting a legal battle for ownership of the enterprise. They are also calling for a change in the legal framework to allow workers to take over enterprises. Mr Tsipras promised to support this effort with legal reforms. He has also spoken about the importance of co-operative banks as a vehicle for development.

Reading about this venture reminded the writer about an Argentinian workers’ initiative recorded here.

greek solidarity header

An online platform, Solidarity4all, first mooted by the late Tony Benn, showcases different examples of informal co-operation, from social pharmacies to grocery stores or free lessons, including newly formed co-ops. Syriza has helped the Solidarity4All initiative, with each MP donating 10-20% of their wage to promote the social economy. People have taken matters into their own hands through grassroots activism and local collective action. The many and varied social solidarity initiatives include social pharmacies, social medical clinics, social kitchens, social groceries, Okmarkets without middlemen, a social collective of mental health professionals, social solidarity drop in centres, time banks (sharing skills and time), olive oil producers sharing olive oil, the ‘potato movement’ where farmers trade direct with consumers cutting out the supermarkets. Read more about Solidarity4All here.

A new citywide currency keeping money earned in city in the local economy

karen andy reeve pound

Above: Karen Leach from Localise West Midlands and Andy Reeve from Impact Hub Birmingham who have produced a currency note exclusive to Birmingham – see http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-could-next-city-launch-8810436.

They are planning to follow the model of the existing Bristol Pound, which is currently used by 782 firms and generates £1 million of business each year.

Karen Leach, coordinator at Localise West Midlands, said: “What normally happens is money leaves the area all the time because you spend money in an organisation that isn’t locally based and locally owned. Money is constantly sucked out like water down a big plughole from the local economy. That’s what we’re trying to stop.”

Since its creation more than two years ago, the Bristol Pound has become the UK’s largest rival to Sterling and the first city-wide currency. Brixton, Stroud, Totnes and Exeter have also introduced the scheme – and it is hoped the Birmingham Pound will repeat their success with independent businesses.

bristol poundThe Bristol Pound, a non-profit organisation, is regulated by the Bristol Credit Union and has received backing from Bristol City Council which has discussed plans to pay staff in the currency. Around a quarter of current Bristol Pound transactions are made using paper notes in £1, £5, £10 and £20 denominations while the rest are made electronically by mobile phone text messages or online. Read more here: Bristol Mayor chooses to be paid in Bristol Pounds.

Consultations on developing the idea will be made by a campaign group of local credit unions, trade organisations and businesses following an initial meeting last week.

The Green Deal: why it has not taken off and what we can expect in the future

A “must read” from Phil Beardmore for all interested in Green Deal & Green New Deal:
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In this article – first posted on Birmingham Eastside – Phil Beardmore describes why the Green Deal scheme has not taken off and what we can expect in the future.