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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
New currency for Brecon
Gareth Jones
BBC Wales Business Editor

We've all jingled pounds in our pockets. Many of us have used euros, dollars and yen - but how do you fancy spending a beacon?

As debate continues in Westminster over joining the euro, the mid Wales market town of Brecon is ahead of the game with its own currency - the Beacon - developed to boast the local economy.

South Powys Lets (Local Exchange Trading System) calls itself 'A Hive of Industry'.

It certainly is a busy group of people and they're united by one thing - their use of a currency called the beacon.

One beacon is worth about one pound.

But that's not the point.

Gareth Jones holds a beacon in Brecon
Gareth Jones holds a beacon in Brecon

This is a currency to be used in addition to and instead of sterling.

The idea behind these Lets currencies is it allows the people who use them to have more control over the local money supply.

Beacons work like pounds.

For example, earlier this week scheme-members Peter Munn and John Morton dug the garden for Adrienne Goodenough.

When they finished, Adrienne wrote them out a cheque for 25 beacons each.

They can credit those beacons to their accounts with the scheme's treasurer and use them to buy services or goods from other members.

Supporters believe using the local currency helps the local economy
Supporters believe using the local currency helps the local economy

They can also get beacons in cash-tokens that look rather like monopoly money-to buy smaller items like bread and eggs.

Adrienne Goodenough, who lives in Brecon and is the scheme's accountant, says Lets currencies keep wealth local.

''We have a member who makes delicious bread in her house.

"If I spend my beacons with her I know that she can only spend that money with another member locally.

"But if I bought some bread with sterling from one of the big national or international supermarkets around here, I have no idea where my pound will end up."

The people involved in Lets currencies tend to believe that regular currencies can damage communities and the environment either by sucking money out of the local economy or by not assigning value to things which may nevertheless be important.

But why not keep the pound for use in the High Street and also use the beacon to protect the community and the environment?
John Rogers

In Brecon's bustling square shopkeepers charge in pounds, naturally.

But what is the sterling value of birdsong, or helping someone across the street?

Local currencies give people the chance to value things according to their own priorities.

There is already a feeling that big currencies operate in ways that favour capital cities and their rich hinterlands.

Some beacon-users agree and believe that the euro could even make things worse.

Yet global money systems are convenient and, by boosting trade, can increase average wealth.

But why should we be forced to choose between the euro and the pound?

In a recent article, David Boyle of the respected New Economics Foundation, urged us to welcome euro notes to Britain - but alongside the pound.

Beacons being counted
Some believe the beacon can be used alongside the euro

He also suggested that more 'parallel' currencies should be set up to serve the needs of regions and smaller localities.

John Rogers, who helped set up the beacon in 1993, agrees.

As head of the Wales Institute for Community Currencies, his job is to spread the word about LETS schemes.

'It's possible to bring in the euro for the benefit of tourists and international trade and business.

"But why not keep the pound for use in the High Street and also use the beacon to protect the community and the environment?"

The scheme John Rogers established, having grown out of the peace movement in the 1980s, has now grown to around 150 members and continues to burgeon.

Its estimated there are some half dozen LETS currencies in Wales, including the Aber, the Teifi, the Wye and the Llani.

According to their supporters, big money has a habit of driving out other value-systems, other cultures, other species.

Supporting a LETS scheme, they say, is one way of fighting back against sterling, the euro and the rest.


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