March 18, 2014 10:25 pm

Budget 2014: Osborne loses pound and finds threepence

£1 coin

George Osborne is to scrap the current £1 coin and replace it with a 12-sided version reminiscent of the old threepenny bit, in a Budget move that may appeal to the patriotism and nostalgia of a key section of the electorate.

The chancellor took a personal interest in the design of the new coin, whose retro-look will incorporate anti-forgery features which Mr Osborne claims will make it the most secure coin in circulation in the world.

In a Budget with little money for populist “giveaways”, Mr Osborne’s back-to-the-future coin may turn out to be one of the biggest talking points of his statement.

Mr Osborne says the current £1 coin, which has been in circulation for more than 30 years, is increasingly vulnerable to counterfeiters so that about 3 per cent of all the coins in circulation are fakes.

In his role as Master of the Mint, Mr Osborne will announce plans for a replacement coin to be introduced in 2017, of bimetallic construction and of two colours, but crucially with 12 sides.

Treasury officials admit the coin’s resemblance to the old threepenny bit has little to do with security and everything to do with nostalgia; the new design is a reincarnation of a coin that was in circulation from 1937 until decimalisation 1971.

Mr Osborne showed the Queen a prototype of the new coin on a visit to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night

The politics of the pound can be highly emotive; Harold Wilson defended Labour’s 1967 devaluation by claiming it would not diminish “the pound in your pocket” while Tony Blair declared “I love the pound” in 1997. Today the future of the currency is a significant part of the Scottish independence debate.

Mr Osborne’s threepenny bit gambit may resonate with older voters, some of whom may remember that the coin became popular during the second world war because its distinctive shape made it easy to recognise in a blackout.

Forgery of the existing £1 coin is a direct cost to banks and cash-handling centres and to slot machine operators; the plan to replace it will impose costs on operators of those machines but has been broadly welcomed.

Helen Dickinson, director-general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “It is important that any potential change is effectively planned and managed to minimise hardware costs for business.”

A Treasury insider said: “After 30 years of loyal service, the time is right to retire the current £1 coin and replace it with the most secure coin in the world.

“The coin will take a giant leap into the future, using cutting edge British technology, while at the same time paying a fitting tribute to the past in the twelve-sided design of the iconic threepenny bit.”

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Letters in response to this article:

The drip-drip-drip of a steady erosion / From Mr David Wardrop

A threepenny bit of fulfilment / From Mr Mark Wearden

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