The long-awaited new plastic £20 notes featuring artist JMW Turner entered circulation across the UK today amid an access to cash crisis which is hitting communities across the country.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney brandish the polymer note at a symbolic launch party at Tate Britain, home to some of Turner's most well-known paintings.
The new note, which is expected to be dispensed by half of all ATMs across the country within the next two weeks, will join the Churchill £5 and the Austen £10 in the first series of polymer notes. A new polymer £50 featuring Alan Turing will be issued next year.
The most popular banknote in the country, the £20 note is the first to feature the signature of Sarah John, the Bank’s current chief cashier. She says there are over 2 billion £20 notes in circulation.
The Bank says that laid end to end, two billion polymer £20 notes would stretch around the world almost seven times and weigh a total of 1,780 tonnes - that’s over 141 double decker buses.
While the imagery is impressive, the launch of the plastic comes at a critical juncture for the future of cash in the country, with contactless cards making new inroads into its marketshare. This, combined with the closure of multiple ATMs and bank branches across the UK has raised fears that the access to cash system is on the verge of collapse.
Consumer group Which? is calling on the chancellor to step in with new laws guaranteeing cash access for small communities in the forthcoming Budget.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, says: “The cash network has already been dramatically eroded, and unless urgent action is taken in the Budget, it’s clear that it will crumble completely."