GDP setback was worse than feared during latest lockdowns as savings surged | Business News

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The UK economy suffered a slightly worse start to the year than first thought as households squirrelled away cash during latest lockdowns, revised figures show.

Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 1.6% – compared to an initial estimate of 1.5% – as renewed stay-at-home measures held back business activity and spending, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Latest data showed the impact of restrictions in areas such as hotels and restaurants, education and manufacturing were slightly worse than at first believed in the January-March period.

People celebrate being out for the evening in Old Compton Street, Soho, central London, where streets have been closed to traffic to create outdoor seating areas for the reopening bars and restaurants 12/4/2021
Image: Reopening has helped GDP to start to recover

The ONS figures showed household spending fell by more than first feared, dropping by £9.9bn in the first quarter at a time when much of the economy was closed.

Meanwhile the household savings ratio was 19.9%, its second highest level on record, the ONS said.

The measure of how much money people have to save as a proportion of their overall incomes was only higher in the spring of last year during the first lockdown.

Britain’s economy shrank by 9.8% last year as a result of the pandemic – the biggest decline in three centuries.

It was held back again at the start of this year as the UK battened down the hatches once more against a renewed wave of infections.

But monthly data suggests that the reopening of the economy since then has helped it start to recover, with growth of 2.3% recorded in April.

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‘Thank goodness’ for recovery – but longer term relatively weak, says BoE governor

The Bank of England forecasts that overall this year, GDP will grow at the fastest pace since the Second World War.

However, an early estimate of June’s economic performance by a closely-watched business survey last week suggested the pace of the bounce-back may have peaked already, with some parts of the economy squeezed by supply chain and inflation pressures.

Reacting to the latest figures, Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said: “The small downward revision to Q1 GDP growth probably won’t stop the economy from rising back to its pre-pandemic peak in the coming months.

“And the larger rebound in the household saving rate increases the potential for faster rises in GDP further ahead.”

Prince Philip: New £5 coin released to commemorate Duke of Edinburgh | UK News

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A portrait of Prince Philip will feature on a new special edition £5 coin to commemorate the royal’s life.

The Duke of Edinburgh had approved the design before his death, the Treasury said, and the coin is now being launched to mark Armed Forces Day on Saturday.

It bears the inscription: “HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 1921-2021.”

The list for Prince Philip's funeral has been released
Image: The Duke of Edinburgh (pictured in 2015) died in April, aged 99

The coin follows a collection of new stamps released by the Royal Mail earlier in June, featuring black and white designs showing the duke in different stages of his life.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who unveiled the coin, said it was a fitting tribute to a man “who moved and inspired so many people around the world with his decades of service both to the nation and her majesty the Queen”.

He continued: “I’m proud to unveil the coin on Armed Forces Day, considering his distinguished naval career and unwavering dedication to our monarch and to his royal duties, and it is only right that he and the Queen are depicted together on both sides of it.”

The duke’s coin is being struck by the Royal Mint – for which he served as president of its advisory committee for 47 years – and is available from its website, as well as post offices around the UK and special stockists across the Commonwealth and worldwide, the Treasury said.

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The Royal Mint will also make a £50,000 donation to the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Artist Ian Rank-Broadley was personally approved to create the design by the duke back in 2008. It is legal tender but has been designed as a limited-edition collectable or gift and will not be entering general circulation, the Treasury said.

Undated handout image issued by Royal Mail of a 2nd class stamp with a photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh taken by the photographer Baron. The Royal Mail are issuing four new stamps in memory of HRH The Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh who died on April 9 this year.
Image: Stamps commemorating the duke were released earlier in June

Royal Mint chief executive Anne Jessopp said: “Since the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh in April, many have commented that he led a life well lived.

“He was the longest serving consort in British history, and patron or president to over 750 organisations – including The Royal Mint Advisory Committee.

“The Royal Mint has marked significant Royal events for centuries and is honoured to unveil an original new coin which celebrates the life and legacy of a remarkable man.

“It feels fitting that this coin – which was personally approved by the prince – will also support the work of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards.

“The awards have benefited millions of young people since they were formed in 1956, and are perhaps Prince Philip’s greatest legacy.”

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Children can report nude photos of themselves online via new tool | Science & Tech News

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Under-18s worried that nude pictures and videos may end up online can now report the material using a new tool to stop it being uploaded in future.

Young people can flag such content with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) charity via a tool on the NSPCC’s Childline website before they have appeared online.

The Report Remove Tool has been described by the IWF as a “world first”.

IWF analysts will then review the content and create a unique digital fingerprint known as a hash, before sharing it with tech companies to help prevent it from being uploaded and shared.

Images and videos that have already appeared online can also be reported by sharing the URL, with analysts then assessing the material and working to remove it if it breaks the law.

Young people must verify their age but can remain anonymous with Childline or the IWF – and anyone who makes a report should receive feedback on the outcome in one working day.

Reports of self-generated images more than doubled in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to the IWF.

A young person may have shared a sexual image with a partner that is later shared without their consent, while others may have been groomed or blackmailed online.

IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves claims the tool will help give young people back control.

She said: “Once those images are out there, it can be an incredibly lonely place for victims, and it can seem hopeless. It can also be frightening, not knowing who may have access to these images.

“This tool is a world first. It will give young people the power, and the confidence, to reclaim these images and make sure they do not fall into the wrong hands online.”

Cormac Nolan, service head of Childline Online, said young people do not have to cope alone if they find a nude image has been posted of them online.

He said: “The impact of having a nude image shared on the internet cannot be underestimated and for many young people, it can leave them feeling extremely worried and unsure on what to do or who to turn to for support.

“That’s why Childline and the IWF have developed Report Remove to provide young people a simple, safe tool that they can use to try and help them regain control over what is happening and get this content erased.”

For support, children can contact a trained Childline counsellor on 0800 1111 or via 1-2-1 chat on the Childline website.

Euro 2020: Government hints VIPs could get COVID quarantine rules exemption for Wembley final amid UEFA talks | Politics News

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A minister has said the government is trying to “accommodate” Euro 2020 “as much as we possibly can” – amid reports thousands of VIPs will be granted quarantine-free access to England for the final.

Both semi-finals and the final of the tournament are set to take place at London’s Wembley stadium next month.

And, according to The Times, around 2,500 senior UEFA and FIFA officials, politicians, sponsors and broadcasters could be exempted from having to self-isolate on arrival to England.

The newspaper said there were concerns within government that the semi-finals and final would be moved to Hungary, which is soon to significantly ease COVID border restrictions, if they did not relax rules for VIPs coming to England for the showpiece football matches.

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Minister on football VIPs not quarantining

Under England’s current border restrictions, only those travelling from 11 “green list” countries are not required to quarantine on their arrival.

These include a number of south Atlantic islands as well as countries – such as Australia and New Zealand – that are currently not allowing international travel.

No countries competing at Euro 2020 – apart from England, Scotland and Wales – are on the travel green list.

Sky News understands ministers are still working through details with UEFA and the Football Association, although no decisions have yet been taken on any possible exemptions for VIPs.

Any move to exempt VIPs from quarantine rules would prompt a public backlash, with many Britons having been left unable to book a foreign holiday this summer due to the limited number of countries on the green list.

Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Group F - Hungary v Portugal - Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary - June 15, 2021 Hungary players applaud fans after the match Pool via REUTERS/Alex Pantling
Image: There are reportedly concerns showpiece matches could be moved to Hungary – where COVID rules are more relaxed

Asked if it was unfair that some VIPs could enjoy quarantine-free travel to the UK – while many British holidaymakers who return from non-green list countries would have to self-isolate – Home Office minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News: “One of the things we are trying to do… is obviously accommodate the Euros as much as we possibly can.

“While much of, I guess, the concern around coronavirus regulations has been about whether one situation is fair compared to another situation, what we’re generally trying to do is make difficult decisions about the path of the virus at the same time as trying to enable the ordinary operation of very special events like the Euros.

“No doubt the health professionals and the immigration professionals at the Home Office and then the senior ministers who make the decision will take all of that into account as we proceed.

“It’s a great competition, we’re very lucky to have it, we’re trying to make it happen with as much kind of satisfaction all round as we possibly can and that will be taken into account in the decision over the next few days.”

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Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the proposal of special access for VIP visitors for Euro 2020 “does not sound fair at all”.

“It’s part of the way this Conservative government operates – there’s one rule for their friends and another rule for the rest of us,” he told Sky News.

“We saw that with Dominic Cummings during the pandemic who broke all the rules and didn’t pay the price.

“So often with this Conservative government, if you’re friendly with them you get special favours – that is not the way to do politics.”

This year’s Champions League final – between English clubs Chelsea and Manchester City – was held in Portugal and not at Wembley, as had been floated, after UEFA and the UK government failed to reach agreement on quarantine exemptions.

Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson having delayed the final easing of lockdown rules, which had been due on 21 June, the semi-finals and final of Euro 2020 at Wembley will have crowds of up to 45,000.

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COVID-19: ‘Possible’ putting India on red list earlier might have prevented impending lockdown delay – minister | Politics News

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It is “possible” that putting India on the red list earlier might have prevented the widely anticipated delay to easing England’s coronavirus lockdown that is set to be announced later, a minister has said.

Boris Johnson is preparing to announce a delay of four weeks to step four of the country’s roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions because of the spread of the Delta variant first identified in India.

Live COVID updates from the UK and around the world

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PM urges caution as COVID cases rise

The variant now makes up more than 90% of cases in England and is estimated by Public Health England (PHE) to be 64% more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) variant indoors.

The government has been criticised for putting India on the travel red list on 23 April – two weeks after neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Asked if quicker action could have prevented the current situation, health minister Edward Argar told Sky News that such a suggestion was a “hypothetical” and “we don’t know is the short answer”.

“I don’t think that would have necessarily stopped the variant coming,” he insisted.

But pressed again, Mr Argar acknowledged: “It’s a hypothetical. It’s possible, but there’s no way of knowing that.”

The minister defended the government’s approach, saying ministers took “swift and decisive action”.

“We have some of the toughest border regimes in the world when it comes to tackling coronavirus and I think we acted swiftly and decisively when that was put on the list of variants of concern,” he said.

Labour’s Lucy Powell said “undoubtedly we were too late to put India on the red list”.

“That certainly, I think, had everything to do with the fact that the prime minister was supposed to be going out there himself,” the shadow housing secretary said, referencing a planned trip to India by the PM that was cancelled amid a surge in COVID cases there.

Discussing the coronavirus situation generally, Mr Argar said a “zero COVID approach” was not feasible and that vaccines were the key to living with the virus.

He suggested that the reason for the impending delay to lockdown easing was to allow more time for second doses to be administered.

“We are seeing that severing of the link between the disease and hospitalisations and death,” the minister said.

“I think that on that basis, everyone will recognise that there comes a point where we do have to live with this disease and recognise that you cannot go for a zero COVID approach, you have to live with it, and vaccination is the key to that.

“So I think once we have got those second doses in people’s arms, once we have got that level of protection up to around that 81%, then I think people will be more comfortable with it.”

COVID-19: UK and US taskforce to thrash out resumption of transatlantic travel ‘as a matter of priority’ | UK News

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The UK and the US are setting up a working group to look at the resumption of flights between the two countries, a minister has said.

Trade Minister Greg Hands told Sky News that Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden will be launching a project on Thursday “looking at how we can reopen transatlantic travel between the US and the UK”.

Mr Hands added he believes flights between the two G7 nations should resume “as a matter of priority” due to the “important relationship” the two share.

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Boris Johnson arrives in Cornwall for the G7 summit via private plane. Pic Twitter/@BorisJohnson
Image: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden will be launching a project on Thursday looking at how transatlantic travel can resume

The UK Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to the whole of the US due to the current coronavirus risks.

The US remains on the UK government’s amber list, meaning people who travel to and from the country have to self-isolate on arrival for 10 days.

Most passengers from the UK are also currently banned from travelling to the US and have been since a presidential decree was introduced last March.

On Monday, the bosses of airlines that operate flights between the UK and US and London’s Heathrow Airport called for a transatlantic travel “corridor”.

They said it would be “essential” to ensuring the economic recovery of the aviation and travel sectors.

Mr Hands said he agreed it is important that travel between the two nations resumes.

People wearing N95 face masks waiting at baggage claim line terminal of the international airport. Airplane travelers waiting for luggage from a conveyor belt.
Image: On Monday, the bosses of airlines and London’s Heathrow Airport called for a transatlantic travel ‘corridor’

“Well we are launching a working group together – the United States and the United Kingdom.

“This is one of the agreements that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Joe Biden will be launching today, we’ll be looking at how we can reopen transatlantic travel between the US and the UK,” he told Sky News.

“There will be a working group set up and we are looking as a matter of priority. It is such an important relationship for travellers, for families, for tourists, but also for investors.

“Every day in this country a million people in this country go to work for US companies. In the United States, more than a million people go to work for British companies.

“It is very important that we get that transatlantic relationship reset up in terms of travel between the two countries.”

The UK has introduced a traffic light system for travelling abroad based on the COVID situation in different countries.

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The growing threat of the Indian variant

The system was introduced on 17 May, with reviews taking place every three weeks.

The first review, on 3 June, downgraded Portugal to the amber list, throwing getaway plans for some holidaymakers into doubt – and forcing those already out there to shorten their trip and rush back to beat the quarantine deadline.

The green list consists of Gibraltar, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, plus several small, remote islands that are British Overseas Territories.

However, entry to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands is severely restricted.

People returning from a country on this list do not need to quarantine, but will be required to take a COVID-19 test two days after arriving in the UK.

William and Kate could spend more time in Scotland under plans ‘to save the union’ | UK News

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William and Kate could be asked to spend more time in Scotland under plans reportedly drawn up to save the union.

A report in The Sunday Times says the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would spend more time at Balmoral and in the town of St Andrews where they met at university.

The plans, drawn up by palace officials, come as the argument over Scottish independence intensifies following the Scottish National Party’s victory in last month’s election.

SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a number of times that she wants a second referendum, after the last one in September 2014 saw the independence cause defeated.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the UK should focus on the recovery from COVID-19.

According to the newspaper, some in the royal household fear that politicians are “losing Scotland” – and officials believe the couple could serve as a “visible symbol of the bonds between England and Scotland”.

One source said: “Advisers want William and Kate to be in Balmoral a lot more and build on their St Andrews connection. They want them not to look like visitors but to look like residents.”

More on Duchess Of Cambridge

William and Kate have recently been on a tour of Scotland, where William spoke about how the country was “so important” to him and his wife.

He described it as “vibrant, friendly, innovative and determined”, also saying: “I’m shaped by this place.

“The abiding affection I feel for it is rooted in my experience of its everyday life in people, relationships, and its ethic of neighbourliness.”

During the tour, William and Kate met former prime minister Gordon Brown, who campaigned against independence in the last referendum and is now focusing on “middle Scotland” – those with no fixed views on the issue.

Mr Brown has described this sector of society as “patriots not nationalists” who want greater cooperation between the UK’s governments.

Last month, a spokesperson for Kensington Palace said: “During his time in Scotland Prince William has spoken to a broad range of people from different communities including politicians from across the political spectrum.”

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