Looking to the future
Bristol Pound has been running for long enough for us to have learned a thing or two. Perhaps the most important realisation is that to really make a significant impact on our local economy, the original Bristol Pound model of encouraging localisation will not be enough. We need a far more ambitious approach for the future.
You can scroll down this page to read the whole vision, or use the icons below to navigate quickly to the bits you're most interested in.
Local digital payments
The world has moved on since we first developed the Bristol Pound. The global digital has taken off. Now it's time to localise the digital economy.
Paying by phone is common these days. Growing numbers of transactions happen on apps like GooglePay and ApplePay. Those platforms leak increasing amounts of money in transaction charges away from Bristol (and indeed the UK) as they grow.
Bristol Pound has always sought to keep money local.
We want to create an e-wallet payment platform for the city, operating at scale.
Most importantly, we want to ensure that any surpluses are used for the benefit of social and environmental projects across the city, through the City Funds.
The move to a cashless society
We are moving to a cashless society - whether we like it or not. Cash is increasingly difficult and expensive for individuals to come by and for businesses to process.
But many people are unable to provide the kinds of documents that banks need to see to comply with anti-money laundering legislation. And so, large numbers of people are excluded from our digital economy.
The unintended consequence is that people who can't get bank accounts are increasingly at risk of financial abuse by people offering to act on their behalf. We urgently need to empower those who are excluded.
We need digital money for everyone.
One City solutions
Bristol's One City Plan is a really positive approach to addressing many of the environmental, social and economic challenges across the city. But to deliver it, we will all need to engage with it, changing our behaviour and priorities in ways that support the greater good.
The next step is a big piece of work - communicating what people and businesses need to do, and encouraging them to take action and embrace changes that are needed. We see the need for a reward scheme as a toolkit to help implement the One City Plan.
We see the payment platform as the ideal infrastructure.
As well as carrying sterling transactions, the platform can carry tokens that reward people and businesses for the changes they make, and provide discounts to encourage the kind of economic activity that is good for our local economy.
Another huge problem is the very nature of our current economic system. In an ideal world, we would have an economy that served to share the world's resources in a sustainable way and with all people equitably to ensure needs were met. Our current economic model needs to change significantly to enable that.
This will mean a move away from constant growth in consumerism, and help to develop a sharing economy. It will mean shifting away from an economy where many are increasingly reliant on precarious low-paid work and benefits, to one where people can meet more of their needs within their community.
LETS and timebanking schemes have lots to offer, but we need to find a way of enabling such schemes to grow, and to operate long term. By operating these schemes as tokens on the BristolPay platform, we can create that long term stability and opportunity to scale up.
Data for Good
There is another problem with GooglePay and other tech giants owning so much of our transaction data.
These companies will seek to exploit the data for economic purposes - gaining insights into our individual behaviour so that they can target advertising at us through their other social media and search engines.
This exacerbates the problem of constant consumer growth, so damaging to the planet and causing such immense economic inequality, both locally and around the world.
By contrast, BristolPay will have an ethical approach to data use. Anonymised transaction data will be used for good, improving our understanding of the local economy and behaviour patterns, helping us plan effectively for the future.
Today Bristol, tomorrow the world!
Creating a greener, fairer and stronger economy here in Bristol has always been our primary goal. But we've always had an ambition to create something that others can copy.
Lots of cities and regions have similar economic problems to Bristol, so this will be relevant to many places.
And in global economic terms, to have a real impact, we need to change not just Bristol's economy, but all local economies.
We will take care in the design to make it as easy to implement in different areas as possible, whilst ensuring that local token schemes can be designed to meet local needs.
Structure and Governance
For us, our social, economic and environmental purpose is the most important thing. Good governance is really important in ensuring that purpose doesn't 'drift'. We see strong local oversight and co-design as being the way to keep things moving in the right direction.
We expect one legal entity, adhering to B Corp principles, to own and manage the platform, and be the regulated body for the financial transactions. All financial transactions would of course be fully backed in sterling.
Each local implementation of the platform would be managed by separate legal entities. The different sorts of members (citizens, community groups, businesses, anchor institutions etc) would have representation on the board. The board would be responsible for ensuring an inclusive, consent-based approach to co-design, data use, and use of surplus funds.
It might sound from this as though we've got a really clear plan and are ready to start raising the money to build the platform. But actually there are lots of areas where we still don't know enough to undertake any design work.
The next step is a feasibility study, which will cover three broad areas:
- Technical - we need to know not only what kind of IT will support the functionality of this platform and the likely costs, but also how it needs to integrate with other systems, like the Council's revenues and benefits systems, the buses, retail point of sales systems, business accounting systems, Smart City infrastructure... And how much will it all cost?
- Behavioural science - we want people to feel encouraged to participate in the token schemes, but not to feel that the tokens are 'buying' their participation in a transaction. What rewards will inspire people to take action, but enable people to still feel like they are participating of their own free will for the greater good? We know that these feelings can add significantly to people's well-being.
- Regulation and fiscal implications - whilst Electronic Money Institution regulations are already in place and well understood, mixing tokens and money on the same platform is very innovative. We need to ensure that people's benefits are not affected by earning tokens, and that there is clarity for businesses on how discounts given for tokens should be accounted for.
Co-design - We Need You!
We believe that this project will only truly work if it develops through co-design, ensuring everyone's voices are heard and represented as we develop a solution for the whole city.
We've already set up an advisory panel to help steer the project. Members of that panel include Bristol City Council, University of Bristol, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital and Microsoft.
Our next step will be to create a wider panel to start the more detailed co-design process.
If you'd like to be involved in the ongoing development of BristolPay, whether as a citizen, community group, local business, big business or anchor institution, do get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].
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