Bank of England considers introduction of polymer banknotes

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November 19, 2013 – According to a press release the Bank of England ‘has conducted a research project looking at the materials on which banknotes are printed. In particular, the Bank has reviewed the relative merits of printing banknotes on polymer rather than the cotton paper as at present.’

The Bank of England apparently sees in the change to polymer banknotes ‘considerable benefits to both the durability and quality of banknotes, while also enhancing the strong security which the public associates with Bank of England banknotes.’

The statements underlines that ‘Polymer banknotes are resistant to dirt and moisture so stay cleaner for longer than paper banknotes; Polymer banknotes are secure. They incorporate advanced security features making them difficult to counterfeit and further enhancing the strong security of Bank of England banknotes; Polymer banknotes are more durable. They last at least 2.5 times longer than paper banknotes so will take much longer to become “tatty”, improving the quality of banknotes in circulation.’

Also the environmental aspect has been considered positively as well as consumer-friendliness: ‘Being thin and flexible they fit into wallets and purses as easily as paper banknotes. The Bank consulted with the Royal National Institute of the Blind on the proposed size change and they have indicated their support. If the decision is taken to proceed the £5 note will measure 125mm in length and 65mm in height. Each subsequent denomination will measure 7mm longer and 4mm higher than the previous denomination; therefore the £10 note will measure 132mm x 69mm. These will be a little larger than the Euro notes.’

First reactions from key stakeholders in the industry and financial institutions with whom the Bank of England has discussed the issue reacted positively too.

The Bank has also undertaken a public consultation in order to avoid negative future reactions from the users. The final decision will be communicated in December 2013.
Commenting, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Charles Bean, said:
‘Polymer banknotes are cleaner, more secure and more durable than paper notes. They are also cheaper and more environmentally friendly. However, the Bank of England would print notes on polymer only if we were persuaded that the public would continue to have confidence in, and be comfortable with, our notes. The results of the consultation programme on which we are embarking will therefore form a vital part of our assessment of the merits of polymer banknotes.’
If a decision is made to move to polymer, the Bank will also introduce smaller banknotes. These will be more in line with the size of those in other countries and the larger denomination banknotes will be easier to fit into purses and wallets. This will not alter the current look of Bank of England banknotes: the existing format of tiered sizing will be maintained, i.e. the higher the denomination, the bigger the note. They will also continue to feature Her Majesty the Queen, and to celebrate people who have made a universally-recognised and lasting contribution in their particular field of work. The first polymer banknote would feature Sir Winston Churchill, and the second Jane Austen.’

Chris Salmon, the Bank’s Executive Director, Banking Services and Chief Cashier, said:
‘The forthcoming consultations demonstrate the Bank’s commitment to transparency in relation to banknote issues, and are aimed at enhancing awareness and understanding of polymer so that the public can feed into the Bank’s decision in an informed way. I am looking forward to participating in a number of consultation events over the next two months.’

A change to polymer banknotes would affect, initially, only the new-style £5 and £10 banknote and therefore being introduced in 2016 at the earliest.

The Bank of England offers detailed information on the subject on their website.