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Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

We’re pretty enthusiastic about alternative currencies at nef. We have a ‘funny money’ wall decorated with Berkshares, Totnes Pounds, Lewes Pounds and Time Bank dollars. Since these notes are only accepted by small local businesses, they keep money circulating in their respective local economies, rather than being leaked out out the area through chain stores. Local currencies help to create thriving communities, and help keep our high streets from turning into Clone Towns.

So we’re pleased to report that a new community currency will soon be circulating not far from nef headquarters. A few enterprising souls at Transition Town Brixton are introducing their very own pound this September, and have a new website to promote it. Members of nef‘s Connected Economies team have acted as advisors on the project and Lambeth Savings & Credit Union (LSCU), a financial co-operative that has been serving Lambeth since 2006, are holding the Brixton Pound’s sterling backing.

Stopping the spread of Clone Town syndrome is particularly crucial for Brixton. It has plenty of independent retailers, but these are under threat from aggressive chain store expansion. Tesco already has a huge superstore just off the High Street and a Tesco Metro on the road up to Kennington, and yet it still has plans for expansion in Brixton, draining more customers away from local businesses. Earlier this year, Brixton’s vibrant market only narrowly avoided being turned into a yet another dull shopping precinct. Thanks to campaigning by Friends of Brixton Market, the planning application from developers London and Associated Properties (LAP) was rejected. Initiatives like the Brixton Pound will help to make this victory secure.

If you live in Lambeth – or even if you don’t – and want to support the scheme, you can pledge to buy ten Brixton Pounds (B£10) when the scheme goes live in September. Or, if you’re a business owner in Brixton, you can pledge to accept the currency from your customers.

And while I’ve got the attention of all you South Londoners, why not join Project Dirt?

Bookmark and ShareVeronika Thiel is a researcher and project manager on nef’s Access to Finance team.

The ClubCard creates a huge database about customer spending habits. Tesco's new current account will add to the supermarket's knowledge about the way we shop.

The ClubCard creates a huge database about customer spending habits. Tesco's new current account will only add to the supermarket's knowledge about the way we shop.

Yesterday, Tesco has announced plans to provide current accounts in thirty of its stores. If this pilot scheme is successful, then the supermarket giant will roll-out banking services nationwide.

In principle, this isn’t a bad move. Britain’s banking sector isn’t really a competitive one anymore. According to an Office of Fair Trading report written before the Lloyds TSB-HBOS merger, 79 per cent of current accounts held by four high street banks. Any injection of competition into the market is, therefore, a welcome thing. And with 2,115 stores across the country, Tesco outstrips the network reach of any single bank.

But those 2,115 are also turning our high streets into Clone Towns, robbing the UK of its retail diversity. And although Tesco has successfully monopolised the nation’s grocery shopping, it shows no signs of slowing down. Tesco is quickly becoming a cradle-to-grave company. You can buy your baby food, school uniform, kitchen appliances, computers, books, internet access and telephone (both mobile and landline), fill up your car and get it insured, get a health check and prescription and, yes, even plan your funeral at Tesco. In many communities, the only pharmacy is in Tesco. It’s becoming the one-stop-shop for your entire life.

In this light, Tesco’s banking plans hardly look like a diversification of the market or the creation of some healthy competition.

Tesco also has one of the biggest databases storing customer information. If you use your Tesco ClubCard regularly, then you can be sure that the supermarket has a wonderfully clear map of your spending habits: what you buy, where you buy it, when, and how often.

Now that they’re throw banking services into the mix, they’ll have another database at their fingertips. My bank can quite easily tell what I do from my transactions: whenever I pay with a card, they know what I bought. That’s why I quite often use cash. I don’t have loyalty cards: they save you very little money, but they do make you a perfectly observable consumer.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Tesco will breach customer confidentiality or abuse the data that they collect. Due to banking rules, they will be unlikely to be able to match a bank account with the data collected on a Tesco ClubCard.

Nevertheless, the information that Tesco will hold about a person with a ClubCard and a current account would reach frightening proportions. This concentration of information is worrying. If you think that the Government holds way too much data about your person, then think again. Tesco is likely to know more about you than your local council or your GP. And if you are lured by their offer of a current account, they will soon know even more.

Whilst Tesco’s move into banking is, on the face of things, a welcome addition of diversity to the retail banking market, it also is the opposite: concentration. Concentration of the provision of goods and services in one company, and concentration of data collection.

Let’s make sure that Tesco isn’t the only new bank on the block. Support our campaign to offer banking services at the Post Office. Write to your MP and tell them to support Early Day Motion 1082. Chose to bank at a place that you trust and that will also support your local community: the Post Bank.

UPDATE: You can now sign a petition supporting the Post Bank.


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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.