Indecision delays local euro plans

24 Jan 02
Efforts by local authorities to prepare for the euro have almost ground to a halt, with councils blaming government dithering over the new currency, which came into use in 12 European countries on January 1.

25 January 2002

Nearly three years after Tony Blair instructed public sector bodies to buy computer systems capable of handling the euro ahead of a referendum in the UK, interest among councils has waned significantly.

There are isolated examples of local authorities recognising the euro. Dover District Council – in charge of the nearest British town to the eurozone – announced earlier this month that it would accept euros in its museum, tourist information centre and area offices.

It also plans to accept car park fees in euros. Ben Bano, Cabinet member for regeneration, said he hoped other businesses would recognise the importance of offering dual currency facilities to tourists.

But councils such as Dover are in a very small minority. East Sussex County Council, which produced a euro toolkit in conjunction with CIPFA, is among those frustrated by the delay. 'The programme has gone really dead,' said Ian Woolsey, the council's euro project manager. 'Nothing is happening at a national level.'

Andrew Parkin, manager of CIPFA's euro forum, said it was inappropriate for councils to spend money on the euro until they knew whether there was going to be a referendum.

'A few local authorities know what they need to do in the event of a changeover but for some it's a very contentious issue politically,' he added. 'It [preparation] is seen as an example of euro-creep.'

Some councils are understood to be offering trading standards advice to businesses using the euro. Birmingham, meanwhile, has said that it will accept council tax payments in euros in the same way as it deals with other foreign currencies. 'We are treating it the same as any other currency,' said a spokeswoman.

David Maddison, a project officer at the Local Government Association, said councils should expect to receive a draft planning tool on the euro from the Treasury and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions within the next few months.

'Things are starting to come back to life,' he said. 'It doesn't take a genius to work out that the Treasury knows something could be hovering on the horizon as any preparation work is governed by whether there is going to be a referendum.'


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