Over recent years, we’ve all noticed the closure of local shops as the chains and supermarkets force small businesses out of the market. Whereas before you had a choice of greengrocers on the high street, now you’re lucky to have one. The same applies to other shops as well, such as butchers and fishmongers, as big businesses continue their creep and stranglehold on what we can buy and where. Our communities are starting to become Clone towns, where the shopping areas are dominated by chain stores and look alarmingly like each other. The spark of individuality and uniqueness is getting stamped on and driven off our high streets.
There are ways we can stop this. Other parts of the world have introduced local currency systems that give areas the opportunity to strengthen the local economy while preventing money from leaking out. These local currencies also build resilience into the local economy by keeping money circulating in the community. They also build new relationships, between services and suppliers, shops and customers. Local, independent shops are a huge community resource – the people who work in them know their customers and their needs, but also notice if somebody hasn’t been in for a while, which could be a cause for concern. They also get people thinking and talking about how they spend their money, encourage more local trade, which reduces food and trade miles in the process. Local currencies help to achieve a sustainable future for the area, benefiting the community and small local businesses.
I believe we should introduce a local currency covering all the Lothians. Not just the parliamentary region, but the area covered by the four local authorities. This is an ambitious scheme and, as far as I know, nobody has tried to introduce a local currency to an area this size. However, sometimes we do things not because they are easy but because they are right. As I’ve said before, we need to challenge ourselves to ensure we deliver our best.
That’s why my manifesto includes the creation of the Lothian Lolly, as I call it, to help revitalise areas again, reinvigorating a sense of togetherness and feeling of pride in our community. At the same time we will help local business grow and compete in at times a cut-throat market. As they grow, so will the local economy. The more traders that join, the more effective the scheme will be. At the same time, we will reduce our carbon footprint by shopping locally and using local produce, with local shops sourcing goods and services locally.
In South London the Brixton Pound has boosted the local economy and built a mutual support system amongst independent businesses. They’ve achieved this in under two years, with the local council endorsing it and the New Economics Foundation helping its development. Only recently the London Mutual Credit Union has become a Brixton Pound bank. The Brixton Pound currently has over 1000 users and includes 190 businesses within a very small area. There are also other local currencies throughout the country and the world.
As I’ve said, the Lothian Lolly would cover a much greater area than a borough, supporting the region’s businesses and encourage local trade and production. This complementary currency, working alongside, but not replacing, pounds sterling, will help strengthen our community while creating a more diverse and resilient economy. Not only that, but it is also a way to show our commitment to each other within the community – a way to signal that this is about ‘us’, not just about ‘me.’ The stronger the community grows, the better it reacts in times of recession.
I also believe that the Lothian Lolly can become a sign of quality and service. Through the use of regular mystery shoppers, say once a quarter, to check on both the products on offer but also the customer service received. The idea came to me when I was shopping in Broughton recently. The local traders association had encouraged its members to put up signs that read “Shop Local. Use Us . . . or Lose Us.” This was a really good example of local businesses doing something to promote themselves and make people appreciate what they offered. I went into one of the shops displaying the sign to buy a paper and a chocolate bar. While I was in the shop the woman behind the counter did not stop her telephone conversation. The only thing she said to me was “bye” as I left the shop, which was in response to me saying goodbye to her. There was no please or thank you, she didn’t tell me how much my purchases came to or how much change I was supposed to have. In fact, it has to rank as some of the worst customer service I’ve ever received. OK, she was not actually rude to me, but at the same time I was treated as if I was an inconvenience. After all, her chat with a pal was much more important than a customer.
To help ensure this doesn’t happen, we can use the Lothian Lolly as a benchmark. Every participating business would receive a score of one, two or three lollies for both their selection and/or quality of products plus their customer service. One lolly would equal good – this is the minimum a Lothian Lolly business should have. After all, every contributing business should offer good service and products. Two would be for very good and three for exceptional. The business would have to visibly display their rating on the front door so customers know what to expect. Yet again this helps everybody – customers would have a guarantee that they are entering a well-run business, and the business would know that this is helping to establish a loyal customer base.
- Good for local businesses.
- Good for customers.
- Good for the Lothian economy.
- Good for our communities.
- Good for the environment.
You can’t lick that, can you?