'Payment in kind' is replacing the pound: Peck, link and pond gain popularity as alternative currencies

A NEW range of currencies has developed rapidly in Britain over the past year. With idiosyncratic names such as the peck, the link and the pond they are now used regularly by thousands of people.

International currency dealers will never have heard of them, but they provide an alternative to the cash economy, help the poor and the unemployed, encourage the use of skills and try to rekindle a sense of community.

Almost 200 Local Exchange Trading System (Lets) schemes have been set up, more than three- quarters of them in the past year. Some have only a dozen members while the largest, in Manchester, has 300.

Anyone who joins a scheme offers skills or services, such as plumbing, gardening or the use of a photocopier, to other members. A price is agreed in whatever notional currency has been adopted, but no money changes hands.

The system is more ambitious than straight barter. The provider receives a credit on his or her account kept by a local organiser and a debit is marked up against the user. The person in credit can then set this against other services.

In Southwark, south London, a scheme set up in August adopted the 'peck' as its currency because the area includes Peckham. Skills on offer include carpentry, sewing, piano lessons, and translation.

Donnachadh McCarthy, the organiser, is offering counselling, holistic massage, cleaning and typing. He is having his Christmas pudding made by another member of the scheme rather than buying it from a supermarket.

He said: 'It is a system to recreate a community economy which we were losing because of multinational companies and big supermarkets. Money which comes into Southwark is used once and then leaves via the banks which use it to finance projects elsewhere.'

Southwark is an inner-city area where poverty is rife and unemployment high, and the aim is for people out of work to use their skills and those short of money to pay for services by exchange.

In west Wiltshire, where the currency is the 'link', 200 people have joined the scheme since it was set up three years ago. The services on offer reflect the rural character of the area and include transport, tree surgery and gardening.

Daniel Johnson, a painter and decorator and freelance writer, is the scheme's 'bank manager', recording debits and credits. Like many members he uses his skills to earn both conventional money and links so that he has purchasing power and access to services.

In Barnes, a middle-class area of south-west London, a scheme is being set up by Perry Walker, who works for the New Economics Foundation which promotes green economics. About 25 people have shown an interest but their motives tend to be different from those in Southwark.

'In areas of high unemployment schemes are a way of using and developing skills and feeling that these skills are valued, but in Barnes the attraction is more the sense of community that it creates between people,' he said.

The currency in Barnes is to be the 'pond', after the pond on the common, which has inevitably produced jokes about what 'the pond in your pocket' will be worth. The answer, as in most Lets schemes, is around a conventional pound.

Meanwhile, the Inland Revenue is keeping a wary eye on Lets. If done on a small scale, such deals are classified as 'social favours' and are not taxable, but if they become regular they must be declared. It is unlikely that tax officials will accept having the wiring fixed in their offices in lieu of payment.