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Business / Cashless advocate praises isles after taking experiment north

A FORMER banking industry chief who is attempting to live without using notes or coins says Shetland is “largely just as cashless” as the rest of the UK after he visited the isles.

Mike Chambers, who was formerly CEO of the BACS payment scheme which operates direct debit in the UK, has spent nearly one year ‘cashless’.

He decided to take his experiment to Shetland earlier this month and he said the isles were well equipped for cashless purchases, such as through bank card machines and contactless payments.

On Chambers’ itinerary was a trip to the North Isles, however, meaning that he was forced to use cash on the council’s inter-island ferries.

“Largely I found that Shetland is just as cashless as anywhere in the UK, with a couple of exceptions,” he said.

Council ferries are currently cash-only, but moves are being made to bring card and contactless payments on board.

“Using the the council ferries is cash only, or cheque – who uses cheque these days? The speed of issuing tickets on a busy ferry particularly in the summer would be more efficient for them if it was cashless.

“We went to a beautiful pop-up cafe in Sandness, and it was fantastic, but they were cash only. It appears as an outsider a lot of community things go on in the islands.”

Chambers said he used an ATM machine on the UK mainland for the “first time in 43 weeks” before heading to Shetland as he knew cash would be needed on the council ferries.

Shetland Islands Council, however, is actively looking into bringing card payments on its ferries following the roll-out of smart ticketing on buses earlier this year.

He said he used contactless, including ApplePay, at the Bigton, Cullivoe and Fetlar shops.

As he did not explore Lerwick too thoroughly, Chambers did not come across many cash machines in Shetland, and the two that he did see charged a fee for withdrawal.

One surprise that he did come across was the Old Haa museum in Yell, where he stopped for a cup of tea.

“We just assumed they would be cash only, but they do take contactless,” he said.

“We had a lovely conversation with a lady who said ‘we do take contactless but only in certain rooms because the walls are so thick we can’t get a phone signal’. I made an assumption – very traditional, very out of the way – and I was wrong.”

Chambers reiterated that while he thinks the country will ultimately move to cashless-only in the future, no-one should be forced to stop using notes and coins.

Recent figures from banking body UK Finance showed that around 70 per cent of people in the UK now use contactless, with the number of these payments rising by 31 per cent to reach 7.4 billion in 2018.

“I retired last year, and I thought I’d try an experiment to live without cash,” he explained.

“I’ve been 43 weeks cashless, and the perception is that this is just a London thing, or a city thing, or an urban city. I live in the country in Suffolk and the reality is that it’s absolutely not.

“If you want to be cashless, you can be, but you should never be forced to be cashless by your bank, the society or government.”