Bank of England to issue plastic five and ten pound banknotes from 2016

UK banknotes will be printed on polymer, a flexible plastic film, instead of cotton paper, the Bank of England revealed on Wednesday.

New GBP5 polymer banknotes will be issued in 2016 and banknotes valued at GBP10 will be available the following year. The design of the Bank of England notes will remain the same, and will still feature a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen and a different historical character for each denomination. The first GBP5 polymer note will feature Sir Winston Churchill and the GBP10 note will feature Jane Austen.

Bank of England notes in current use are larger than international counterparts, which makes the larger denomination notes harder to fit into cash handling technology and less convenient, therefore the Bank has decided to make the new notes slightly smaller than current paper equivalents. However the Bank will continue to increase note size with note denomination. Printing and storage costs will also be reduced with the smaller notes.

The Bank said it carried out a three-year research programme to decide upon the material for the new banknotes. It concluded that the research had shown compelling reasons to move to printing on polymer, which is resistant to dirt and moisture and stays cleaner for longer than paper. Polymer banknotes are also more durable and are said to last at least 2.5 times longer than paper banknotes, therefore the banknotes will be cheaper to produce compared to paper banknotes. Polymer banknotes are also more secure, being more difficult to counterfeit.

A public consultation was also carried out over the course of two months, when the Bank hosted events across the UK in order to give people the opportunity to handle polymer banknotes and learn more about them. The resulting feedback from almost 13,000 individuals indicated that there is overwhelmingly support for polymer notes, with 87% of respondents being in favour of polymer, while only 6% were opposed and 7% were neutral. The Bank added that people who had the opportunity to see and handle the notes were 20% more likely to support polymer than those responding on the Internet. The Bank also consulted with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which has indicated support regarding the proposed size change.

The Bank of England is currently tendering the contract for printing the new notes from April 2015. The notes will continue to be printed at the Bank’s printing works in Debden, Essex. Also, the Bank expects to enter into a contract with Innovia Security for the supply of the polymer material. If the contract is confirmed, Innovia will reportedly establish a polymer production plant in Wigton, Cumbria, in 2016.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, commented: “Ensuring trust and confidence in money is at the heart of what central banks do. Polymer notes are the next step in the evolution of banknote design to meet that objective. The quality of polymer notes is higher, they are more secure from counterfeiting, and they can be produced at lower cost to the taxpayer and the environment.”