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A coalition of transatlantic airlines have demanded that President Biden and Boris Johnson lift “overly cautious” travel restrictions between the US and UK given the strength of the two countries’ coronavirus vaccine programmes.

The companies, which include all the carriers offering passenger services between the nations and other industry players including Heathrow Airport, argued that fully reopening the key market was “essential to igniting economic recovery” on both sides of the ocean.

American Airlines, British Airways (BA), Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic issued the plea at a time when the UK is tightening its green list of destinations and just days ahead of a meeting between the two leaders in Cornwall this week – the first face-to-face encounter since the president was elected.

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They said in their statement: “With world-leading vaccination programmes in both the UK and US, there is a clear opportunity to safely open up travel between these two low-risk countries, enabling consumers on both sides of the Atlantic to reconnect with loved ones, re-establish business relationships and explore new destinations after more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions.”

They pointed to a £23m hit to the UK economy for each day the rules remained in place.

The US is on the UK’s amber list, which requires travellers to the country to quarantine for 10 days when they arrive home and pay for two PCR coronavirus tests.

Entry requirements for the United States demand that UK citizens provide a negative COVID test ahead of arriving in the US, proof of recovery or are fully vaccinated.

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The industry issued its plea at a time when it remains under severe financial pressure globally.

COVID-19 restrictions have taken a hard toll on transatlantic operators for 15 months – rules that have been blamed for the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the two countries.

BA alone has cut almost 13,000 roles while Virgin, which secured a refinancing to survive the turbulence, was also forced to halve its own workforce last year as demand slumped.

The UK airlines highlighted a recent York Aviation report that a second “lost summer” for international travel would result in £55.7bn in lost trade and £3bn in tourism if reopening was delayed until September.

Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said: “There is no reason for the US to be absent from the UK ‘Green’ list.

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“This overly cautious approach fails to reap the benefits of the successful vaccination programmes in both the UK and the US.”

He added: “We urge Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden to lead the way in opening the skies, making it a top priority at the G7 Summit.”

His counterpart at United, Scott Kirby, commented: “Throughout the pandemic, experts have encouraged governments, businesses and the public to follow the science.

“United and other airlines have done just that and implemented the necessary safety protocols to confidently re-open key international routes like the air corridor between our two countries.

“Programs like the trials of COVID-free flights between Newark and Heathrow and the US Department of Defense air filtration study conducted on board United aircraft not only contributed to the body of scientific knowledge, they have demonstrated the near non-existent rates of viral transmission aboard an aircraft.

“And now, through mobile app, travelers can upload verified test results and vaccine records before international travel.”

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Food and fashion push retail inflation towards ‘two-year low’

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Food and fashion push retail inflation towards 'two-year low'

The annual rate of shop price inflation has eased to its lowest level for almost two years, according to an industry reading that credits food and fashion prices.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC)-Nielsen Shop Price Index showed the pace of price increases slowed to 2.5% over the 12 months to February from 2.9% the previous month.

It was the lowest reading since March 2022, the BRC said.

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It was driven by a significant contribution from food, with prices 5% up on a year ago compared with the 6.1% figure registered at the end of January.

The report pointed to price drops for meat, fish and fruit helping fresh food inflation down to 3.4% from an annual rate of 4.9% just four weeks ago.

The BRC credited easing input costs for energy and fertiliser and “fierce” competition for cash-strapped shoppers among retailers.

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A separate report by Kantar Worldpanel, which logs supermarket price and sales data, also pointed to an easing in grocery price inflation but it believed food shoppers would be spared a big acceleration in prices ahead.

Its strategic insight director, Tom Steel, said: “Though there’s been lots of discussion about the impact the Red Sea shipping crisis might have on the cost of goods, supermarkets have been pulling out all the stops to keep prices down and help people manage their budgets.

“This month, Morrison’s became the latest retailer to launch a price match scheme with Aldi and Lidl, after Asda made the move in January.

“More generally, we saw promotions accelerate this month after a post-Christmas slowdown. Consumers’ spending on offers increased by 4% in February, worth £586m more than the same month in 2023.”

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The BRC pointed out rising costs for things like furniture and electrical goods but extended offers on fashion, to entice spending by customers, during February.

It saw risks ahead to slowing price growth from a series of issues including disruption to shipping in the Red Sea to minimum wage and business rates hikes planned for April.

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Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, said: “Easing supply chain pressures have begun to feed through to food prices, but significant uncertainties remain as geopolitical tensions rise.

“Prices of non-food goods will be more susceptible to shipping costs, which have risen due to the re-routing of imports around the Cape of Good Hope.

“Domestically, retailers face a major rise to their business rates bills in April, determined by last September’s sky-high inflation rate.

“April’s rates rise should be based on April’s inflation, and the chancellor should use the… budget to make this correction, supporting business investment and helping to drive down prices for consumers.”

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Record number of in-store transactions made using contactless

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Record number of in-store transactions made using contactless

A record 93.4% of in-store card transactions up to £100 were made using contactless in 2023, according to data from Barclays.

The figures are based on Barclays debit card and Barclaycard credit card transactions.

Shoppers made 231 transactions on average, spending an average of £15.69 each time.

This added up to the typical shopper making £3,620 worth of contactless payments over the year.

While contactless is still more popular among younger age groups, the gap between older and younger people using the tech is narrowing, Barclays said.

Last year, the proportion of active users among 85 to 95-year-olds passed 80% for the first time.

And for the third year in a row, the over-65s were the fastest-growing group for contactless usage, Barclays said.

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A survey of 2,000 people by Opinium Research for Barclays indicated just 3% of over-75s prefer using mobile payments to physical cards – compared with a quarter (25%) of 18 to 34-year-olds who said they prefer to use their phone.

More than a fifth (22%) of people aged 18 to 34 regularly leave their wallet behind when out shopping in favour of paying with their smartphone, compared with just 1% of over-75s.

Just under a fifth (18%) of people said they struggled to remember their PIN.

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For the second year running, the Friday just before Christmas (22 December 2023) was the biggest day for contactless payments, as shoppers picked up last-minute gifts and enjoyed drinks as they clocked off for the holiday.

Karen Johnson, head of retail at Barclays, said: “In 2024, we expect to see a greater shift to payments using mobile wallets, as more bricks-and-mortar businesses integrate the technology into their customer experience.

“Many of our hospitality and leisure clients are finding success by giving customers the ability to order and pay from their table by scanning a QR code.”

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‘Real danger’ UK will miss out on economic growth without green plan – CBI economists warn

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'Real danger' UK will miss out on economic growth without green plan - CBI economists warn

The UK will “miss out” on economic growth unless it finally comes up with an industrial strategy to green the economy, the leading business group has warned.

As the UK economy has stagnated in recent years, the value of green industries like renewables, eco-friendly heating and energy storage is growing and will help unlock further cash for the UK, according to economists at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

They found that while Britain’s GDP growth was stuck at around 0.1% last year, its net zero economy grew by 9%, and attracted billions of pounds in private investment.

It argues private investment is key to unlocking growth.

The UK has committed to reaching net zero by 2050, but the report comes after Labour rowed back on its £28bn green investment pledge, and the Conservatives waged a rhetorical attack on climate policies.

Net zero means almost eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and requires changes to almost every sector, from food to housing, transport to construction.

The businesses implementing these changes – including solar panel installers and green finance advisers – added £74bn in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2022-23, which is larger than the economy of Wales (£66 billion), according to the CBI Economics report.

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But analysts at CBI Economics and thinktank ECIU, which commissioned the report, warned “the strength of future growth is in jeopardy”.

Unless the UK draws up a “Net Zero Investment Plan”, it will lose out to places with larger economies with clear plans, like the US And EU, it said.

Louise Hellem, CBI chief economist, said: “Green growth prizes could deliver a boost of up to £57bn to GDP by 2030, but global competition is heating up.

She added: “If we can’t outspend our international competitors, we need to outsmart them. And the way to do that is really through ambitious policy frameworks that can direct capital into the UK’s green industries.”

Ms Hellem said the UK economy is “well-placed to be a world leader in this space”, given its “unique blend of advanced manufacturing capacity, world leading services industry and energy technical skills”.

“That means that investors do really see opportunities in the UK market.”

‘Real danger’ UK will miss out

Getting to net zero is likely to cost about £10bn a year until 2050, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is roughly equivalent to the annual defence budget, though the majority of the cost is likely to be recouped in savings.

Many technologies that scientists believe are essential to the net zero transition remain extremely expensive, such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

Adam Berman, deputy director of advocacy at industry group Energy UK, said public investment can “de-risk” these technologies and “crowd in” private sector cash, that can then bring down the price.

Jess Ralston from energy thinktank ECIU, said: “The UK is in real danger of missing out on more investment from negative rhetoric and U-turns around net zero, when the EU and US are offering clear plans and are willing to invest themselves.

“Investors want certainty and that comes from long term stable policy – whoever forms the next government will have to remember that, if it wants to see the net zero economy continue to grow.”

Watch The Climate Show with Tom Heap on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm and 7.30pm on Sky News, on the Sky News website and app, and on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.

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