/ Money

New £5 notes – maybe we should revamp all banknotes?

Crumpled five pound note

The Bank of England is considering replacing the current £5 note with a plastic version, as well as making the £50 note more durable and harder to counterfeit. So is it time for a total revamp of the UK banknote system?

£5 notes – hard enough to get hold of at the best of times – tend to wear out pretty quickly as they change hands so often.

According to new reports, the UK could follow the Australian example and ditch cotton-based paper notes in favour of a polymer-based currency that can even survive a spin in the washing machine.

Looking at the tatty notes in my own wallet, I’m all for a switch to plastic notes, even if they do have a Monopoly-money feel to them. But is it time for a bigger overhaul?

Ditch Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes?

With a Scottish mother, I love spending Scottish notes when I’m visiting – it adds to a sense of identity. And yet, when I try to spend Scottish notes when I get back to England I get all manner of funny looks from London shopkeepers.

This lack of familiarity with non-English notes south of the border surely increases the risk of counterfeit banknotes entering the system, or notes being rejected altogether by wary shopkeepers.

My own preference leans towards not only scrapping Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes, but scrapping Bank of England ones too. As interest rates are set centrally, why is the Bank of England’s name limited to one constituent part of the UK? There may be a good reason for this, but if there isn’t, let’s replace it with a UK central bank and have one set of banknotes for us all.

Who should be on the back of the notes?

The current figures on English banknotes are social reformer Elizabeth Fry, naturalist Charles Darwin, political economist Adam Smith and the first Governor of the Bank of England Sir John Houblon. Previous figures have included William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale, Isaac Newton and Charles Dickens.

In a future redesign, I’d like to see Edith Cavell, William Wilberforce and William Penn featured. Or maybe it’s time for a more radical overhaul with modern-day figures included on the reverse side? That said, I’m not sure I’m ready for the Wayne Rooney £50 note or the Cheryl Cole fiver.

Who would you put on the back of our banknotes? Or more radical still, can you see the end of cash altogether?


According to new reports, the UK could follow the Australian example and ditch cotton-based paper notes in favour of a polymer-based currency that can even survive a spin in the washing machine.

At one time, washing notes caused them to disintegrate. Now they survive a machine wash quite well. I am not advocating ‘money laundering’ but I still remember the embarrassment of going to the bank with an envelope containing pieces of notes, many years ago.

Like Martyn I love spending Scottish notes south of the border.

Maybe we should ask the Corporation of the City of London?

Drug users may be put off by this news 🙂

Raúl says:
5 September 2011

If you want the Sterling Pound to be recognized globally, The Beatles must be there.

Raúl says:
5 September 2011

And on Polymer banknotes for sure.

Mikhail says:
6 September 2011

Why not to spend more effort on developing cash-free solutions. Cash is so old and unsafe and inconvenient way to pay, you never have a correct change or so many coins that they even deform your wallet, plus think about all the bacteria that live on money and traveling from one person to another. Yak!!! We don’t need cash! Cancel cash and the black market will be canceled too, can’t imagine a drug diller accepting American Express, in addition there will be nothing to fake!

I agree Michael, but the trouble is that no-one has come up with a universal alternative to cash, which is why we still use it so much. I do some work for a small charity and virtually all donations are made in cash. Sometimes there is a cheque and unfortunately we need to keep them too, as made clear in recent Which? Conversations.

We will probably end up paying with mobile phones but a lot of development is needed.

Interesting point wavechange, I believe cash will always remain because the setup costs for electronic payments are astronomical. There is no way that a charity, corner shop, market stall or small business can make this kind of investment.

I work on computers and the amount of defects myself, my team and others find is frankly scary. This has been the case for the 15 years that I have been in the industry when managers are more interested in “getting the product out there” rather than committing to delivering a quality product. I accept that the banking sector do place more importance on quality, but it is still a computer system, you cannot exhaustively test every scenario or you will be testing for the next 40 years.

This is why cash must remain to support the credit/debit card system that currently exists. As soon as they start to integrate things with my phone (ie use new technology), everything will grind to a halt. Current banking systems are built on solid dependable legacy systems, new technology like mobile phones is very much in it’s infancy and cannot be relied upon just yet.

I agree entirely Dean, but I live in hope. It is sad to hear of people being mugged, often for a few pounds.

Mikhail says:
6 September 2011

I work for IT devision of a small charity, we accept PayPal (all credit/debit cards), SMS donations and from the next month it will be possible to donate while paying a restaurant bill on the card terminals. The cash donations is expensive to keep because you need someone to monitor danation cans, count whatever is inside and deposit it to the bank. By some reason many people think that using cash it cheap and easy, well it is not.

PS most fundraisers that you see on a street are NOT employed by charities and only a small proportion of money after 2-3 months will be passed on to the charity. Please never use them, if you want to donate just go directly to the charity website.

To accept credit debit cards payments you don’t need to invest much the technology is available from free already.

Barry says:
6 September 2011

In answer to the general article – I used to work in a job counting cash – the state £5 notes came into the Bank in was indescribable – most were incinerated after counting, how they ever got like that I don’t know – so I’m all for the polymer notes.

As a Scot I do like the different notes (and the fact we still have pound notes)- if our shopkepers can manage to spot fakes amongst 6 different bank notes (BoE, clydesdale, RBS, BoS, Northern Irish, and Euros – now commonly accepted) then I don’t see why everyone cannot master this feat unless Scottish & N Irish Shopkeepers are just better ? 😉 I have only ever had any questions about Scottish notes in one place in London – Tescos(it is like money yeah?). Indepedant retailers have never even batted an eyelid!

I’m afraid electronic systems cannot counter fraud completely – hence why dodgy pop ups on your computer ask for your credit card and bank detilas. Credit Card fraud i m assive. A motivated criminal always finds a way.

lets keep our notes, lets use them to celebrate the different aspecst and achievement of our nation (anyone remember the explosion of interest after Jack Nicklaus appeared on a scottish £5 note? – currently yours on ebay for between £10 and £90) and why not encourage some English Banks to follow suit?

I would put on the back of our banknotes: Robert Owen – Founder of the Co-operative Movement.

Not sure about the type of note i prefer but im glad some more notes are to be printed, but i think the faces of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be good with them getting married this year try put people back in the good mood.

Originally from the UK, I have lived in Aus for 14 years (plastic notes). It makes sense to have plastic notes, washable, tear proof, and apparently much harder to copy. They’re good tooth and nail picks as well! Having said all that I still prefer the feel of UK money, which is easy to say from Aus where the negatives don’t apply.

Mikhail says:
7 September 2011

‘tooth pick’ yak!!!

isiah says:
9 September 2011

it would be nice to have banknotes that are simpler and more elegant, not and complex in their design. look to canada, switzerland, or the euro notes

Isiah – The ‘cpmplex’ design is an important anti-forgery measure… As for plastic notes, the sooner the better!

Dave says:
2 November 2011

I agree that we should follow the australians,It might cost to replace with the polymer version but it will last longer and harder to counterfit

Sandra B says:
6 April 2015

I think that an overhaul of all notes and coins is long overdue. I like the sound of the longer lasting plastic notes.
I think they should depict famous UK historical figures but not from any specific home nation.
To save confusion, Scottish and Northern Irish ones should be scrapped.
The idea of issuing through a UK Central bank instead of the Bank of England would be a great way of uniting all four home nations.
It would also cut down on the. Cost of issuing the different types of notes.
I also think it is about time we scrapped 1p and 2p coins, with all prices rounded down to the nearest 5p. This would also save on costs.

You might be interested in a more recent Conversation entitled “Spending Scottish & Northern Irish notes in England & Wales” [put “banknotes” in the index box at the top of the page]. There was strong support for the continuation of notes issued by Scottish and Northern Irish banks – proposing to deprive people of their heritage could have an alienating effect rather than a unifying one!

The Clydesdale Bank has already started to issue a limited edition of two million £5 polymer banknotes a year ahead of the Bank of England’s plastic issue.