LONDON — Britain will start printing banknotes on plastic instead of cotton paper in 2016 given “overwhelmingly supportive” public backing for the switch, the Bank of England said Wednesday.
The change will start with the five-pound note, about $8.20, featuring Winston Churchill, followed about a year later with a 10-pound note featuring Jane Austen. Nearly 13,000 individuals gave feedback during a consultation, with 87 percent in favor of switch, 6 percent opposed and 7 percent neutral.
About 20 countries already use polymer for their currency, and the BOE said the new notes are more secure, longer-lasting and cheaper to produce. It also announced new procedures for selecting historical characters to appear on the currency after criticism that the selection of Churchill for the fiver meant no woman would be represented on any of the U.K.’s notes.
“Our polymer notes will combine the best of progress and tradition,” Gov. Mark Carney said at a press conference announcing the change. “They will be more secure from counterfeiting and more resistant to damage while celebrating the history and tradition that is important both to the bank and the nation as a whole.”
The BOE favors the term “polymer,” saying that “plastic” is misleading. During its consultation, it said that people, before seeing examples, expected the new notes would be thick and difficult to fold. The contract for printing, currently held by De La Rue Plc, is open for tender. Innovia Security will supply polymer material for notes.
The BOE has been researching materials for three years and said the benefits of polymer include resistance to dirt and the ability to include “windows” or clear portions that make counterfeiting more difficult. Other countries using plastic money include Australia, which introduced it in 1988, New Zealand and Carney’s native Canada.
The bank’s announcements Wednesday follow protests this year after Carney’s predecessor, Mervyn King, said that Churchill would replace prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. The BOE responded by subsequently announcing that Austen would appear on the next tenner.
The bank issued a statement Wednesday on its plans for adopting characters in future. It choices will seek “to celebrate individuals that have shaped British thought, innovation, leadership, values and society” and selections will “take account of its past decisions.”
The process will also include a new advisory committee and a nomination period for suggestions from the public.