Abstract: Britain's National Giro, 1965-1977: Computerized Nationalism?

Mark Billings and Alan Booth

Abstract

This paper investigates the early years of Britain's National Giro, which opened for business in 1968. We place Giro's establishment and development in the wider political, social, and economic context, addressing commercial and technological issues at a time when techno-nationalist and wider macro-management concerns were far stronger than at the present time. The Giro was established to operate a national payments system, making use of the post office branch network. It provided an alternative to the traditional check-clearing system operated by the major commercial banks, which British governments in the 1960s regarded as uncompetitive and inefficient hoarders of labor, which persistently threatened government attempts to control inflation and simultaneously failed to cater to the banking needs of the majority. We add to the growing literature examining the role played by technology in financial institutions and extend existing scholarship by examining this unusual business organization: the Giro was established as a state-owned financial institution, rare in Britain; and it was designed to function from the outset on a computerized basis, a key element in the government's techno-nationalist stance (promoting Harold Wilson's "white heat of the scientific revolution"), which sought to nurture the British computer industry against U.S. competition.