Businesses to barter services

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The Independent Online
The first business-only local exchange trading scheme (Lets), where companies can barter services without a penny changing hands, is to be launched next year, writes Dido Sandler.

Sponsored by the London borough of Hounslow, West London Interest-Free Trading, or Westlift, will allow local businesses to take up each other's surplus services, using an alternative system to the cash-economy.

Westlift will be a business equivalent to existing community-based local exchange trading groups, or Lets, where a few hundred individuals get together to exchange goods and services in a cash-free environment. The UK Lets movement has grown from 100 to 40,000 members in the past six years.

As with Lets, when a Westlift company avails itself of another member's services, it writes a "cheque" or IOU for a certain number of local currency units. The cheque will be debited from the company's trading account, which is administered centrally by the scheme.

The company does not need cash or credits in order to trade. Instead it will perform its own surplus services for another member of the group, at an unspecified date in the future, to cancel out the debt. For example a hotel may need to call out a glazier. In six months' time the glazier may need extra book-keeping services, so he uses his credits with a Westlift member offering that service.

Unlike a bank account, your debt is interest-free, although like a bank there is to be an administration fee per cheque.

Hounslow was the first local authority to set up a Lets scheme for the local community, as part of the borough's anti-poverty strategy. Sixty per cent of the country's local authorities are now considering following suit.