Report produced by Jane Tooke, August 1999
8. Organising the
1) Constructions of value
2) Economic exclusion
3) Financial exclusion
4) Social networks
7) LETS as an organisation
The size of the area covered by the participating LETS ranges from 3 to 750 square miles. Despite this wide range, the majority of groups (69 %) are at the lower end, covering areas less than 50 square miles, the mean size being 78 square miles. Only 8% cover areas larger than 300 square miles.
The majority (80%) were started by a group of people. These groups came into contact because they share membership of another organisation (33%), live in the same area (26%) or are friends (18%). Less frequent points of contact are following an advert in a newspaper/shop (9%), previous membership of a larger LETS (3%) and at public meetings (5%). Of the remaining 20% of groups started by individuals, the majority (70%) are started by women.
The main reasons for setting up the LETS are most often community building (33%). Other reasons include combating poverty (15%), sharing skills (10%), creating an alternative economy (9%), because it is a good idea (8%), the nearest LETS being too far (6%), enhancing sustainability (4%) and encouraging local economic development (3%).
Since embarking on these aims, 33 (29%)
groups have since developed different aims. Most frequently these
include community networking (27%), helping disadvantaged members
(21%) and an increased importance of social contact (21%). Other
new aims include developing offshoot projects (12%) and becoming
more mainstream (9%).
36% of groups claim that their currencies relate to time worked. However, their responses to the question reflect the existence of a recommended pay rate (specified by 41% in another question) rather than an actual time based currency. Only Harringey LETS clearly stated that time is their currency. Of the 42 groups that recommend hourly rates of pay, only 2 suggest that these rates are not widely accepted.
Recommended pay rates range between 4 and 10 units per hour. Most often these rates are introduced as a guideline (54%), but also to encourage social equity (17%) and for simplicity (8%). A minority of groups (17%) have experienced some problems with these pay rates. Most frequently this is because, as one group put it, ësome argue a professionalís time is worth moreí.
These findings shed some light on the
question central to Theme 1, that is; to what extent do LETS represent
alternative forms of social relations and constructions of value?
It suggests that the discourse of social equity present amongst LETS
is not unproblematic. Ideas surrounding the equal value of skills
are contested by some, the issue being the time/money previously
invested in professional skills. However, whilst this issue does
present a point of contention, the data also suggests that it is
only a minority of groups where this issue is problematic.
The number of membership accounts held by the participating LETS range from 11 to 350. However, a quarter of the sample had membership accounts numbering 33 or less, half 51 or less and three quarters 89 or less, only 7 groups (6%) have memberships of larger than 200. Thus despite the wide range in the number of membership accounts, groups in the sample tend to be quite small, the mean size being 72. There is some correlation between the number of membership accounts and the date groups started operating. All groups with less than 20 members started after 1993, whilst all groups over 200 started before 1995. Thus older groups tend to have larger memberships, suggesting that over time groups continue to grow.
5.2 Organisational Membership
5.3 Membership Profile
Approximately one quarter of groups (24%) target publicity at specific types of people. Most often this targeting is aimed at various categories of low income groups. The most frequent method used to target these groups involves leafleting and talks in relevant places, such as community organisations. Although Ludlow LETS have introduced a reduced subscription rate and Tring and Hemel Hempsted LETS have organised for a card to be given to all those on benefit.
A significant minority of groups (22%) claim that the profile of their membership has changed over time. The main way that groups describe this change (40%) is in terms of becoming more mainstream. Groups described this transition in ways such as ëfrom a homogenous group of community/environmentally aware to a greater diversity from wide ranging backgrounds and lifestylesí and ëwe now have a high number of members who need the scheme and not who simply want the schemeí.
Many of the participating LETS feel that there are particular types of people underrepresented in their membership. The most common category specified by groups is skilled trades people (33%), followed by unemployed people (29%), young people (21%), low income groups (20%), older people (13%), ethnic minorities (13%), professionals (11%), businesses (9%), local people (i.e. not incomers) (7%), people with disabilities (6%), people with dependent children (5%) and lastly, affluent people (3%).
This picture of membership profiles raises a question relevant to Theme 4, namely what proportion of LETS members should be classified as ësocially excludedí? People co-ordinators describe as ëunemployedí or ëretiredí neatly fit into this category, whilst low paid employees may not and professionals are even less clear. Given the estimates of the proportions given by co-ordinators it does appear that at least a significant minority of members might be thought of as socially excluded, although at the same time co-ordinators feel that socially excluded groups are also underrepresented. Clearly the significance of LETS for socially excluded groups needs to be understood further.
The annual turnover of groups ranges from 3 to 40,000 LETS units with a mean of 4,668. The total turnover of groups ranges from 3 to 110,000 LETS units with an average of 13,664. Not surprisingly there is some correlation apparent between total turnover of the group and how long they have been operating. Groups that started by 1995 having turnovers of at least 2000 units whilst groups that started during or after 1997 have total turnovers of less than 10000 units. Annual turnovers are, again not surprisingly, affected by the size of membership with larger groups having higher turnovers. Groups smaller than 50 having turnovers of less than 6000 units, whilst groups larger than 80 have turnovers of more than 2000.
Activity rates in the LETS are fairly low. The levels of trading for each member is estimated by co-ordinators to be most frequently between 1 and 5 trades per year, with the mean percentage of members in this category averaging at 35%. Whereas the mean for activity between 5 and 10 trades was only 26% of members and 24% for more than 10 trades per year. The mean percentage of members thought to be not trading was also quite high (33%).
These findings concerning the extent
of turnover and trading activity relate to questions raised in Theme
2 regarding evidence of new economic activity created by LETS. It
appears that this activity is fairly low, but nevertheless it may
be crucial for those involved.
6.2 Regulation of Trading
A larger proportion of groups (42%) specify guidelines for what is traded on the LETS. Mostly these guidelines specify that only ëlawfulí trades may take place (67%) this mainly concerns alcohol. But often groups also add guidelines such as ënot pornographicí, ëethicalí or ënon discrimatoryí. Other groups place restrictions on the trading of babysitting (14%) either disallowing trades or vetting those offering this service.
63% of groups indicate skill competencies
in their directories. Typically this involves indicating categories
such as ëprofessionalí, ëskilledí or ëamateurí,
less frequently actual qualifications are listed.
An issue concerning publicity that emerges throughout the questionnaires is the sterling cost of publicity. This helps to explain the heavy reliance on the word of mouth method of publicity as this is obviously free, whereas other strategies, such as the production of leaflets/posters, cost money. Many groups (49%), however, receive some assistance that often help with these costs as well as those of postage and room hire. Most of this support comes from local government sources (76%) in the form of a small grant or use of facilities. The remaining 24% of groups receive assistance from voluntary organisations. This support can be categorised into start up grants (25%), ongoing administration support (23%), one off support (21%), publicity (14%) and development workers (9%).
More than half of the participating LETS (57%) have what they call a core group that makes decisions. Other popular forms are management groups (9%), committees (8%) and steering groups (6%). Less formal forms of organisation are also popular with 10% of groups relying on whoever turns up to meetings. However, even those groups with formalised organisational structures appear to have open decision making groups, 91% of participating LETS state that this was the case.
The majority of groups (74%) rotate their decision making group, although on the whole this is done on a voluntary rather than a formalised basis. Most regularly these groups (77%) made statements, such as ëpeople leave and others take overí. In the remaining 23% of cases more formal replacements are made via elections at AGMís. The main reason for the predominance of the informal approach is that there are not enough willing volunteers to replace those already involved in organising the LETS. This finding is also reinforced by the fact that the most common organisational problem stated by groups is finding people willing and/or competent to undertake administration (36%). Other problems concern communicating the concept (18%), non-active members (17%), general apathy (17%) and lastly that the geographical area covered is too wide (7%) .
8.2 Problems with Trading
Most groups experience problems with members being ëin commitmentí, 8% regularly and a further 54% occasionally. Groups report the reasons for this problem using statements such as ëfeeling that it is wrong to go into debtí and ëno confidence in their ability to earní. Strategies for coping with the problem can be grouped into four types of response: i) encouraging those in committment to undertake administration tasks, ii) helping them think of new skills to offer, iii) explaining that commitment enables others to trade, and iv) indicating the situation in the directory so other members know that they need to trade. One further strategy adopted by 19% of groups is to provide some sort of support fund for members that are in difficulty. Most of these funds are made up of voluntary contributions (85%). The remaining 3 groups, Bishopston, Basingstoke and Gauntlets (Aylesham and surrounds), have compulsory contributions.
8.3 Other activities
62% of groups are members of a national
LETS organisation, most of which (95%) are members of LETS Link UK/Scotland
. Most groups found this affiliation useful, with 27% stating that
it is very useful and a further 43% of cases that it is quite useful,
whilst 9% claim that it is not useful. Reasons given for positive
responses frequently mention the conferences organised, information
produced and that the organisation provides a source for contacts.
More negative comments focus around difficulties in establishing
contact with the organisation and the lack of regular newsletters.
This issue relates to the Theme 6 and the question of; how the issue of place is discussed by LETS members? The data suggests that the co-ordinators of LETS clearly feel that place is important to how their LETS has evolved. Despite this, however, when urban/rural, size of group, size of membership and levels of activity are analysed no clear patterns emerge. This is not to say that these issues are not important, but that their relationship is complex and one that will need to be drawn out in the membership surveys and qualitative case studies.