Time Banks summary

Assembled because of the 15th October, Public Timebanking event in Birmingham

The world’s first time bank is said to have been established in 1973 by a Japanese woman. The benefits that older time bank members derived included formation of new friendship networks to replace those lost by retirement and the chance to use old skills and learn new ones. Time banks can generate a new form of social capital that fosters traditional Japanese reciprocity and has ikigai or ‘sense of meaning in life’ as one of its main pillars. See Elizabeth Miller’s thesis, submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University June 2008.

time banks boyle coverDavid Boyle, who helped to found the London Time Bank, wrote a 2001 briefing, published on the New Economics Foundation blog, setting out a practical prescription for community time banks, that can release human resources to tackle deep-rooted social problems and also provide practical and effective solutions for a range of public policy problems. Download here.

The time bank idea was further developed at the London School of Economics by Washington law professor Edgar Cahn in 1986, who describes the idea as working like a blood bank or babysitting club: “Help a neighbour and then, when you need it, a neighbour – most likely a different one – will help you. The system is based on equality: one hour of help means one time dollar, whether the task is grocery shopping or making out a tax return… Credits are kept in individual accounts in a ‘bank’ on a personal computer. Credits and debits are tallied regularly. Some banks provide monthly balance statements, recording the flow of good deeds.”

time-bank graphic

Our database first records a reference to a 2001 letter to Ed Mayo, then director of the New Economics Foundation, enclosing a donation for the Time Bank work with a local reference:

“I rather like our South Birmingham LETS social fund, which enables elderly and/or frail people who are not LETS members to use the appropriate services – shopping, sitting, gardening etc. It costs nothing except members’ donations of Hearts to the fund. Where Time Banks will perhaps work better is in becoming better known – forming linkages with Health Centres and other organisations – because the gripe here is that the fund is not used enough”.

The Farmers Guardian (26.10.01) recorded that the Cumbria Rural Women’s Network was helping women to train or retrain, set up or expand their businesses. The network catered for 16-year-olds upwards with some 15 local networks bringing women together on a geographic or common interest such as a wool group. Voluntary co-ordinators and mentors – successful business women or rural women with professional training – advised and supported budding entrepreneurs. The commitment was repaid by the time bank – this means that their time is repaid by an equivalent amount of someone else’s work or training time.

In its 2002 Social Enterprise Strategy (now archived) the Department of Trade and Industry highlighted the remarkable upsurge in competitive social enterprises – credit unions, social firms, housing co-operatives, fair-trade and ecological enterprises, managed workspaces, farmers’ markets, recycling initiatives, employment services, community shops, arts ventures, social care co-operatives and time banks.

James Robertson’s Newsletter No. 8 – December 2005, brought news of a Municipal Time Bank: ”The Overstrand Municipality in Hermanus is running this project in partnership with SANE and the Embassy of Finland. It enables poor people in the municipality to reduce their debts or pay for services, and the municipality gains the value of the work they do. The benefits of this Community Exchange System (CES) are that people work for each other and their communities. This encourages people to identify and use their skills to meet local needs, builds the local economy and community, and compensates for cashlessness.


time banking logo


Will beneficial alternatives emerge from the Greek crisis?

nefAndrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation thinks so, commenting: “While disaster reveals a society’s economic and social weaknesses, it also reveals where true resilience and real value can be found – in the ability of people to cooperate at the local level to meet a community’s needs”.

Localise West Midlands’ Localising Prosperity programme suggests that approaches to economic development that concentrate more on ‘locally grown’ enterprise, supply chains and investment are more successful in creating successful places, well-being and social justice.

lwm loc  prosp graphic2

In a diverse, localised economy, more people have a stake, which redistributes economic power, reducing disconnection, inequality and vulnerability to ‘too big to fail’ institutions.

Greek survey questions could include some of those LWM listed for the West Midlands:

  1. What sectors and types of economic activity could be localised?
  2. By how much could economic activity be localised?
  3. What quantifiable benefits might it bring?
  4. Decentralising capitalism and capital outflows from the region.
  5. Localising money supply and markets.

Two relevant developments

Peer to peer technology [P2P]

The Guardian has reported the story of Volos, a Greek city where locals have adopted an alternative currency, known as the Tem. As the country struggles with its worst crisis in modern times, with Greeks losing up to 40% of their disposable income as a result of austerity imposed in exchange for international aid, the system has been a huge success. Although locals insist the Tem, which is also available in voucher form, will never replace banknotes they say it is a viable alternative. The mayor of Volos says that the alternative currency has proved to be an excellent way of supplementing the euro: “We are all for supporting alternatives that help alleviate the crisis’s economic and social consequences. It won’t ever replace the euro but it is really helping weaker members of our society. In all the social and cultural activities of the municipality, we are encouraging the Tem to be used.”

Parallel economies

Elsewhere, Andrew Simms reminds us, in the wastelands created by recession in Detroit in the United States, unemployed people have turned to urban gardening to grow their own food and reclaim abandoned plots of land. People have done the same in poor parts of New York.

After the financial crisis that wrecked Argentina’s economy at the turn of the millennium, community gardens sprang up alongside community kitchens. Things went much further in Argentina as whole arms of government ceased to function properly. El Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados, the movement of unemployed workers, brought groups together to do everything from making food, to building shelters, creating markets for people to sell their products, schooling and, also, demonstrating. They created, in effect, a parallel economy. Panaderia, bloquera and ropero – bakeries, block making, and clothes making and selling were a particular focus which is perhaps unsurprising being the basics of a livelihood: food, shelter and clothing.

Decentralising capitalism and controlling capital outflows from the region

Greece shut down its banking system, ordering lenders to stay closed for six days starting on Monday, and its central bank moved to impose controls to prevent money from flooding out of the country. This might lead to a process of domestic investment, reversing the process of the Thatcher government’s legislation which starved British industry of investment funds.

Whatever the causes of the crisis: over-spending on German military equipment, high public expenditure, failure to collect taxes, lack of ‘due diligence’ on the part of lenders or the single currency, many hope to see the emergence of creative ways of developing a stable Greek economy.

Described as a “small quasi-closed economy” by the director of the Centre for European Policy Studies – with 12.4% of the country’s labour force employed in producing food and cotton, one of the world’s leading fishing industries and the substantial revenue from tourism and shipping – Greece seems to have a ‘head-start’.

Reviving a genuinely local entrepreneurial culture

david boyle2Innovative thinkers often have to wait ten to twenty years before their concepts become mainstream. Two years ago David Boyle (New Economics Foundation) listed ten linked propositions, many borrowed from the most successful cities in Europe and North and South America, which could effectively allow cities to take back control of their economic destiny.

Agreeing with the City Growth Commission that a new economic agenda is emerging in these successful cities (and setting aside the issue of the desirability of growth) these propositions offer a more interesting and convincing contribution to the Core Cities debate, than Jim O’Neill’s four points:

Boyle’s ten linked propositions offer an outline agenda – a composite drawn from these urban centres:

  1. Rebuild local economies by plugging the leaks that are draining local money away. How money circulates in an area is just as important as the amount of money flowing into it. Traditional economics suggests that cities must specialise. That may be true for the largest businesses, but it is irrelevant for local business. For them, the best way forward is not just by specialising, but also by building diversity and looking for ways of replacing imports.
  1. Develop local diversity and distinctiveness. Too many of our cities have devoted their imagination and resources to making themselves look the same as each other. But because economic diversity keeps money circulating locally, it is critical that any new developments design well-being, distinctiveness and sustainability indicators into Master Planning processes and that any new retail effort must make high streets more, not less, diverse.
  1. Bust local monopolies to let enterprise flourish. One major reason why so many of our local economies have been hollowed out is that so many cities have been using net wealth destroyers as anchor stores.
  1. Organise enterprise coaching, support and advice in every neighbourhood. Coaches, backed up by a panel of local business people, bank managers and other local volunteers, can help to break down the barriers preventing enterprise from starting, replicating the kind of social networks that successful places have.
  1. Use local resources to build an effective new local lending infrastructure. Our businesses are now in a far weaker position than American or German competitors, and potential competitors, because we have no equivalent lending infrastructure. The real problem is not lack of capital to lend, it’s a serious lack of institutions capable of lending it.
  1. Invest in local energy. At present only 0.01 per cent of electricity in England is generated by local authority-owned renewables, despite the scope that exists to install projects on their land and buildings. In Germany the equivalent figure is 100 times higher.
  1. Use waste products as raw material for new enterprises. Traditional economics confines its interest to the point where money becomes involved and to the point when a product is thrown away. Cities are often blind to the potential value of what is wasted and thrown away – because all these have potential for enterprise.
  1. Use public sector spending to maximise local money flows. Making sure that public sector contracts build the local economy, and provide permanent economic assets for depressed areas.
  1. Launch a range of new kinds of money. Successful models are now running all over the world, keeping local resources circulating locally and providing independence for impoverished communities. They can provide low-cost or free credit, and – in some countries – they underpin whole sectors of the economy.
  1. Experimenting with new kinds of credit creation for local public benefit. There will be occasions when regional economies require the creation of new public money, free of interest, where necessary to cope with unprecedented financial emergencies, and as the basis for loans to rebuild the infrastructure of productive local economies.

Boyle notes that not all of these ideas could be organised without central government support, but that the rest could be done by imaginative and forward-looking city leaders, grasping the new powers of general competence made available in the Localism Bill.


Read the full article here.


At a time of ‘austerity’ for so many, are there more beneficial uses for taxpayers’ money than mega airports and HS2?


In the FT today, James Skinner, chairman emeritus of the New Economics Foundation, asks fundamentally important questions about a stance often adopted by politicians with an interest in supporting multinational business.


He was prompted to do so by a recent FT editorial “A better plan for London airports”, which cited the fact that Schiphol offers more flights to China than Heathrow as an example of “Britain falling behind in the global race”. He asks:

  • But what exactly is this “global race”?
  • Where is the finishing line?
  • What is the prize we are competing for?
  • Are we really so desperately anxious that more and more people should come to London to change aeroplanes?
  • What do we get in exchange for the noise and air pollution from increasing air traffic?
  • What compensation is there for further loss of land to the hideous sprawl of airports?
  • Are we sure that extrapolations of growth in air travel are realistic anyway, given that oil prices will rise and alternative fuels are not yet in sight?


He concludes that there are many more beneficial ways to invest the vast sums needed to build a mega-airport.


Source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dd76e03e-bef3-11e2-87ff-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2TqmT5R1M


Needed: the revival of a genuinely local entrepreneurial culture

david boyleDavid Boyle of the New Economics Foundation writes: “What kind of entrepreneurial activity is most likely to bring local recovery and local resilience?

“The answer is probably not a chain store that competes in every market – the very opposite of an anchor store.  It is going to be the revival of a genuinely local entrepreneurial culture” – and some would add, often locally financed.

“When the biggest of the big starts pretending it is a different brand altogether, then maybe something is shifting.  Or am I being hopelessly optimistic?”

This writer noticed that the brand ‘Tesco’ did not appear on the outside of their new One Stop shop in Shirley and was told by the sales assistant that it was now policy because they didn’t want to put customers off.

David Boyle wonders:

  • Is it that people are reacting against the overwhelming technocratic feel of Tesco, the sense of the security guard eyeing you up as you struggle with the robots at check-out?
  • Or is it that people have now grasped the truth – that chain stores tend to suck spending power out of local economies, and tend to make people poorer as a result?
  • Is it even that people sense the huge privileges that Tesco’s size give it – the right not to pay bills for 90 days when smaller competitors have to pay in 30 (providing them with the interest-free loan equal to two months stock)?

He points out that Tesco prefers not to allow comparisons between its Tesco Express stores and its One Stop stores, which are in poorer areas and charge up to 14% more than in some other places (as always, the poor pay more), adding:

“Somehow this is even more significant than the news that their American chain Fresh & Easy is up for sale.  When a shopping chain feels it necessary to pretend they are somebody else, then the writing is on the wall” – and concluding:

What holds this up?  The failure of political debate to distinguish properly between being pro-big business and pro-small-business.  What we really need is to be able to articulate a political approach that allows the small to fight back effectively against the big, and stop pretending that pro-big business policy is somehow automatically supportive of small business, when the reverse is the case”.

Community Supported Industry

SCNEconomics USA header
Community Supported Agriculture (flourishing in Stroud) started in the USA in 1986 at Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massaschusetts, just a couple of miles down Jug End Road from the Library and offices of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, a partner of the British New Economics Foundation.

berksharesTheir projects have included the BerkShares Local Currency Program and a SHARE Micro-Credit Program – The Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy (SHARE), a model community-based nonprofit that offers a simple way for citizens to create a sustainable local economy by supporting businesses that provide products or services needed in the region.

Community Supported Industry would be built on a strategy of import replacement, with more labour intensive, smaller batch production, transported over shorter distances. The goal would be to create more jobs, but not more “stuff,” with a smaller carbon footprint overall. The Schumacher Center asks:

Schumacher Centre library
Schumacher Centre library

“Can the Berkshires also model an ethos that would support a Berkshire furniture factory, a wool products industry, an applesauce cannery, a humane slaughterhouse, a water-powered electric generation plant, or that small-scale business that a resident of the Berkshires has already imagined?

“Can the Berkshires embrace “Community Supported Industry”? Can it build the “import-replacement” businesses that provide well-paid jobs for its youth and keep the Berkshires vibrant with a diversity of production, skills, and people while maintaining a commitment to a healthy ecology?”

Build a culture of citizen support

Meetings of business owners, retired persons, youth, investors, organizational leaders, public officials, and concerned citizens would be needed, to consider:

1. What products might be produced in the Berkshires that are not here yet?

2. How can citizens help create conditions to ensure the success of new enterprises?

3. What skills can be offered to help in the process? Development or review of business plans; market research; site selection; equipment identification; mentoring; financing; permitting; skill development?

4. How can the Berkshires leverage the wealth of community resources to support the budding entrepreneurs who will in turn run the new, appropriately scaled and environmentally sound businesses that are the foundation stones of a socially and environmentally responsible economy?

It will not be enough to only imagine the new green, fair, sustainable, slow, resilient businesses; not enough to build a library of good business plans; not enough to whet the appetite for regionally made goods and locally grown food.

To implement the new industries identified and fostered under the umbrella of Community Supported Industry will take securing affordable access to land, identifying (or training) skilled workers, and accessing appropriate capital.

It will mean maintaining an ongoing national dialogue about imaginative land tenure options, distributed ownership, and the democratized issuing of currency.


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2013 watershed: rebuilding local economies

A recent message came from Bob Massie, the president of the New Economics Institute, based in Massachusetts, which grew from E. F. Schumacher Society, in close partnership with Britain’s new economics foundation. It opened by saying that 2013 is likely to be a watershed year:

“A tremendous number of people around the country understand that the system is broken, and that we must work to replace it with something different, something new. Many of these people have already rolled up their sleeves and gotten to work in their local communities. Many others are just waiting for the opportunity. Our plan is to bring these people together with like-minded organizations and leaders to a build a movement to propel America toward a New Economy. . .

“Most people know that our current economy is leading us in the wrong direction. They want to see change and progress – but they aren’t yet part of a shared vision of what that change looks like. The New Economy is about democracy, resiliency, and community . . .

“There are many outstanding organizations committed to building the New Economy. From launching cooperative businesses or community time banks to working to create public banking legislation, more and more people are creating the transition to a just and sustainable economy, now . . . “

Chandran Nair would welcome Massie’s news that:

“There is tremendous energy among college students toward building a movement for the New Economy. When we announced that we would be supporting Strategic Summits on eight campuses this spring, we received over 70 letters of interest from student groups from Hawaii to Maine! These students are already at work raising awareness and building strong collaborations with local communities.

”We believe this will inspire a nationwide movement in 2013 among college students and create a powerful network of leaders committed to building a just and sustainable economy.”

Its fifth project, called TOWARD A NEW ENTERPRISE ECONOMY, aims to:

“Draw in people from all sides of the political spectrum by focusing on how to rebuild local economies through using the skills, imagination, and enterprise of the people who live there. Find ways to make global interconnectedness a positive reality for all”.


A coalition for a better economy?

At Localise WM we have been wondering if the time is right for a long-term, slow-burn, low-resource coalition for a better economy which would steadily and insistently demand change in our economic model.

This would provide a way for civil society to make a collective demand of the UK Government and others to recognise and address the failures of the current economic approach, even in the good times let alone now, to deliver widespread wellbeing within environmental limits.

There is plenty of knowledge and evidence already of the sorts of steps needed to make the economy work better, including proposals around:

–          Economic development that values and protects small scale and indigenous business, including in international development

–          Measures to create affordable housing

–          Decreasing corporate oligopoly and investigating corporate welfare

–          Investigating ways to progress more equal societies for the benefit of all

–          supporting and prioritising economic activity that reduces fossil fuel and other resource use.

This will be most effective if we can focus pragmatically on solving problems, not on anyone’s alternative ideology or big idea. For example it should not pretend to a position on whether growth is a good or a bad thing, but should talk about positive economic activity; about the economy ‘working better’ in terms of delivering social justice, wellbeing and environmental benefit.

The timing feels right, building from the Euro crisis, the strength of feeling around the Occupy movement, uprisings in Arab countries, the income equality movement and pronouncements from an ever-growing list of respected economic thinkers and political factions that we need to think differently about the economy; and invisible only to mainstream media and politicians.

When we mooted this idea to contacts, senior staff at the Equality Trust and Friends of the Earth were interested in the idea, but lacked capacity to work on it.

Happily, it seems the new economics foundation were thinking along the same lines a year or two ago and this work is building into pretty much the coalition we had envisaged. Their work on this is called the Great Transition and hopes to become a ten year programme for systemic change. It encompasses:

  • a broad, collaborative, public campaign for the transition to a new economy that actively engages and mobilises key groups to build support for a rapid transition, helping to change the terms of the debate and create the political and public climate for the Great Transition’s policy prescriptions to gain traction.
  • the development of a new economic model that, unlike conventional models, builds in environmental limits and the role of the banking sector and measures output in terms of wellbeing rather than GDP and provides a robust alternative to the existing economic order;
  • the creation of a new economics commission to secure political support for the Great Transition and the use of the new economic model.

An early stage coalition website will go live around the end of March.

Speaking personally, my only misgiving is nef’s name for this initiative: for many people, “transition” relates to the Transition movement, which (however brilliant) is perceived by as ‘alternative’ and ‘not for them’ even by people who recognise much of the problems and solutions that it espouses. Of course that’s part of the problem – and I can’t pretend that a ‘coalition for a better economy’ is too enticing a name either. nef have the expertise and the reputation to get something like this going, and it’s an exciting prospect.

Whatever the name, there is much mileage in coming together to slowly and steadily insist on economic change. LWM will be taking part in this – watch this space for coalition-building activity locally and nationally over the coming months.

Karen Leach