The Bank of England is moving ahead with a plan to introduce polymer banknotes, similar to those used in Canada, and it’s adopting a new process to select the historical figures featured on the currency.
The first bills made on polymer, a type of plastic film, will be a new £5 note featuring Sir Winston Churchill in 2016, followed by a £10 note with author Jane Austen a year later.
“Our polymer notes will combine the best of progress and tradition,” Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said at a press conference Wednesday.
More than 20 countries, including Canada, use polymer notes which Mr. Carney said last 2 ½ times longer than paper currency and are harder to counterfeit. Bank officials said that in Canada the amount of counterfeiting fell from around 28,000 bills for paper money to less than 400 for polymer notes.
The bank also said that while shifting to plastic money is expensive, it will save about £100-million, or $170-million, over 10 years in printing costs. The new notes, it added, will be slightly smaller than the current bills.
The decision to move ahead with the plan came after the bank launched an extensive public consultation on plastic money. Of roughly 14,000 people approached about the new money, 87 per cent approved the change, the bank said.
“Most people, once they use them like them a lot,” Mr. Carney said referring to the plastic bills. He also tried to debunk some of the concerns about the notes, including their ability to handle extreme temperatures.
“One of the more improbable urban myths is that the intense heat in Canada caused the notes to melt. I can assure you that wasn’t the case. Nor does the intense cold in Canada cause them to malfunction,” he said.
The bank also announced a new policy to select historical figures featured on the currency. The change came after the bank faced criticism last spring over its decision to replace prison reformer Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note with Sir Winston. That meant there would be no women featured on British currency other than the Queen. After months of protests Mr. Carney, who was appointed in July, announced that Ms. Austen, whose books include Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion, would replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note.
On Wednesday Mr. Carney said the bank will consult more widely on future selections and establish an advisory committee to help with the process. The bank will also consider putting groups of people on the currency and it will ensure that “decision makers consider the equality implications of the choices.” The final choice will remain with the governor.