Software data shows freight groups avoiding UK, prices rising

LONDON (Reuters) – An increasing number of freight groups rejected contracts to move goods from France into Britain in the second week of January, while prices rose, according to data that shows the impact of Brexit and COVID-19 on UK trade.

FILE PHOTO: A truck drives towards the entrance to the Port of Dover, following the end of the Brexit transition period, in Dover, Britain, January 15, 2021. REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

Transporeon, a German software company that provides a network for suppliers, retailers, shippers and more than 100,000 logistics service providers, said prices were up 47% compared with the third quarter in 2020.

Prices had been up 39% in the first week of January. The third quarter of 2020 was chosen to reflect the most normal trade levels with regards to COVID-19 turbulence last year.

The data also shows that freight forwarders, the companies that book truckers or other modes of transport to move goods on behalf of suppliers, are rejecting jobs from companies they are contracted to serve, when it comes to moving goods to Britain.

In the second week of January the rejection rate was up 168% on Q3, 2020, compared with the 102% jump it recorded in the first calendar week of the year.

The data backs up what UK freight forwarders have been telling Reuters, that many European drivers are refusing to come to Britain after Brexit. And that prices are soaring.

Businesses across Britain have struggled to export goods into Europe since the UK left the EU’s orbit, particularly small firms unaccustomed to filling in lengthy declarations and food producers having to secure health certificates.

Lorry drivers were also incensed in December when France shut the border to Britain to contain a new infectious variant of the coronavirus, and then demanded negative COVID-19 tests, leaving thousands stranded in Britain over Christmas.

The haulage industry estimates that around 80% of truck drivers operating between Britain and France are employed by European firms.

Transporeon said freight forwarders had also rejected jobs to move goods from Germany, Italy and Poland into Britain.

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Jonathan Oatis

British firms call for immediate $10.3 billion in COVID aid

LONDON (Reuters) – British firms called on Tuesday for another 7.6 billion pounds ($10.3 billion) of emergency government help, saying they cannot wait until finance minister Rishi Sunak’s March budget to learn if they will get more pandemic support.

FILE PHOTO: A man looks towards skyscrapers of the City of London financial district as he crosses Waterloo Bridge, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, Britain, January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville

With Britain back under lockdown and companies adjusting to life after Brexit, firms are taking big decisions about jobs and investment and need to know if their financial lifelines will be extended, the Confederation of British Industry said.

“We just have to finish the job. Now would be a very odd time to end that support,” CBI Director-General Tony Danker said in a statement.

Sunak has extended his support measures several times already and has said his response to the pandemic will cost 280 billion pounds during the current financial year, saddling Britain with a peacetime record budget deficit.

But he is facing calls on many fronts to spend yet more including from lawmakers, some from his Conservative Party, who want an emergency welfare benefit increase to be prolonged.

The CBI said Sunak should extend until June his broad job retention scheme, which is scheduled to expire in April, and then follow it up with targeted support for jobs in sectors facing a slow recovery such as aviation.

He should give firms more time to pay back value-added tax which was deferred last year, grant a similar deferral for early 2021 and extend a business rates tax exemption for companies forced to close by the lockdown as well as their suppliers.

“The rule of thumb must be that business support remains in parallel to restrictions and that those measures do not come to a sudden stop,” Danker said.

The CBI said its longer-term priority was an overhaul of the business rates system that it said was outdated and discouraging investment in low-carbon energy.

Danker said it was too soon to start raising Britain’s corporation tax rate, one of the lowest among rich economies after a Times report that Sunak was drawing up plans to increase it to start fixing the public finances.

“It would be wrong to raise business taxes when we don’t have a recovery,” Danker said.

($1 = 0.7380 pounds)

Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Alexander Smith

More than 4 million Britons receive first COVID-19 vaccine dose

A man walks past a sign outside the mass vaccination centre at the Totally Wicked Stadium, in St Helens, Merseyside, Britain, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Molly Darlington

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 4 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, according to official data on Monday which showed there had been a further 37,535 cases reported and 599 deaths within 28 days of a positive test

A total of 4,062,501 people have received their first shot Public Health England said as the government ramps up the vaccination programme.

Reporting by Costas Pitas

Johnson criticised over lack of COVID-19 welfare commitment

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised in parliament on Monday for refusing to commit to the renewal of a temporary welfare payment increase brought in last year to help people through the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain January 7, 2021. Tolga Akmen/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Parliament voted 278 to 0 in favour of keeping the top-up payment of 20 pounds ($27) a week, but the vote was symbolic and does not force the government to act.

Johnson told his lawmakers to abstain in the vote, after a debate that renewed attention on whether his government is doing enough for people on low incomes after a damaging row over free school meals for needy children.

The opposition Labour Party called for the increase to the Universal Credit welfare payment to be extended beyond April, when it is due to expire.

“We all know, families are looking at us, wondering what we will do to help make getting through this crisis that little bit easier,” said Labour lawmaker Jonathan Reynolds. “What they don’t expect, is the government making it even harder.”

Speaking ahead of the debate Johnson was asked four times whether the top-up would continue, but did not give a definitive answer.

“What we’ve said is that we will put our arms around the whole of the country,” he said.

The government says no decision has been made yet and accuses Labour of staging a political stunt with the vote.

Some members of Johnson’s Conservative Party spoke out against the government, underlining dissatisfaction over ministers’ handling of support for society’s most vulnerable.

“People need some certainty about their family finances for the coming year,” said former Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Crabb, one of six Conservatives to defy Johnson’s instruction to abstain.

Britain has announced emergency help for the economy worth 280 billion pounds, including a massive job protection scheme, and is running its largest peacetime deficit to try to soften the blow of the pandemic.

Universal Credit is Britain’s main method of supporting those who are out of work, in low income jobs or eligible for welfare based on sickness or disability.

The number receiving it has almost doubled to 5.8 million from pre-pandemic levels. ($1 = 0.7385 pounds)

Reporting by William James; Editing by Estelle Shirbon, Alison Williams and Alex Richardson

‘Brexit carnage’: shellfish trucks protest in London over export delays

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 20 shellfish trucks parked on roads near the British parliament and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street residence on Monday to protest against post-Brexit bureaucracy that has throttled exports to the European Union.

A lorry with a sign in protest against post-Brexit bureaucracy that hinders exports to the European Union, drives at the Parliament Square in London, Britain, 18 January 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Many fishermen have been unable to export to the EU since catch certificates, health checks and customs declarations were introduced at the start of this year, delaying their deliveries and prompting European buyers to reject them.

Trucks with slogans such as “Brexit carnage” and “incompetent government destroying shellfish industry” parked metres from Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office in central London. Police were asking the truck drivers for details.

“We strongly feel the system could potentially collapse,” said Gary Hodgson, a director of Venture Seafoods, which exports live and processed crabs and lobsters to the EU.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to be honest with us, with himself and with the British public about the problems for the industry,” he told Reuters. One operator, he said, needed 400 pages of export documentation last week to enter Europe.

David Rosie at DR Collin & Son, which employs 200 people, used to send one or two trucks a night to France carrying live crab, lobster and langoustine worth around 150,000 pounds ($203,000). He said he had not exported a single box this year.

Fishermen, he said, “lost their livelihoods in the turn of a clock” when Britain left the EU’s orbit on New Year’s Eve.

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“TEETHING PROBLEMS”

Under a deal reached last month, British trade with the EU remains free of tariffs and quotas. But the creation of a full customs border means goods must be checked and paperwork filled in, shattering express delivery systems.

Using a phrase that has angered many business owners, Johnson described the changes as “teething problems”, and said they had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson said an additional 23 million pound ($31.24 million) fund had been created to compensate businesses that “through no fault of their own have experienced bureaucratic delays, difficulties getting their goods through where there is a genuine buyer on the other side of the channel”.

The government said this extra cash was on top of a 100 million pound investment in the industry over the next few years and nearly 200 million pounds provided to the Scottish government to minimise disruption.

Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that as well as financial support, it was working with the industry and the EU to address documentation issues.

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“Our priority is to ensure that goods can continue to flow smoothly to market,” a government spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Fishing alone contributes 0.1% of Britain’s GDP if processing is included, but for coastal communities it is a lifeline and a traditional way of life.

The Scotland Food & Drink association says exporters could be losing more than 1 million pounds in sales a day.

Many in coastal communities voted for Brexit but said they had not expected this impact.

Allan Miller, owner of AM Shellfish in Aberdeen, Scotland, said times for his deliveries of live brown crab, lobster and prawns had doubled from 24 hours. This mean lower prices and some of the product did not survive, he said.

“You’re talking 48 hours to 50 hours. It’s crazy,” he said.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton, Timothy Heritage, Jonathan Oatis and Catherine Evans

Aubameyang double gives Arsenal win over Newcastle

LONDON (Reuters) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck twice as Arsenal defeated Newcastle United 3-0 in the Premier League on Monday, condemning Steve Bruce’s side to a ninth game without a win in all competitions.

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After a dreadful start to the season, Mikel Arteta’s side are now up to 10th place in the league and they never looked in danger against a Newcastle side that looks demoralised.

Aubameyang struck the post in the first half and Alexandre Lacazette forced a good save out of the Newcastle keeper just after the interval.

But Aubameyang finally fired the Gunners ahead in the 50th minute, finishing off a counter-attack, running at the Newcastle defence and then blasting home a powerful left-foot drive at the near post.

Ten minutes later Bukayo Saka made it 2-0 with a confident slot home after good work down the left flank from impressive youngster Emile Smith Rowe, who jinked his way around the back of the Newcastle defence before delivering a pinpoint pass.

Aubameyang completed the comfortable victory after Cedric Soares got to the byline and pulled the ball back into his path.

VAR examined whether the ball had crossed the line before Cedric’s pass but allowed the goal to stand.

Arsenal have now kept a clean sheet in five straight games in all competitions.

“I’m really happy overall. Really positive performance, collective and individually we looked really solid and convincing from the first whistle,” said Arteta.

“It took us a little bit longer than I expected to score the first goal but I really like the chemistry, cohesion and rhythm the team played with.”

Aubameyang had only netted three goals prior to Monday’s game and his manager was delighted to see him score his first double since last season’s FA Cup final.

“He needed that for his confidence and the team needs that to be successful. We need him at his best. We were missing his goals, we all know that so to have them back is great for the team,” he said.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce had made eight changes to his team after the defeat to bottom club Sheffield United and was disappointed his team could not improve on a solid first half.

“We gave as good as we got and got into ourselves some decent opportunities but that little bit of confidence has ebbed away for sure. We were caught in the second half where we didn’t see it coming from the first-half performance,” he said.

Asked about his future, the experienced Bruce said: “I am trying to do the best I possibly can as always but you will have to ask others about that.”

Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar

Too hard to set school reopening date yet, says English medical official

Susan Hopkins, Healthcare Epidemiologist Consultant, holds a news conference at 10 Downing Street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool

LONDON (Reuters) – It is too hard to set a date yet for when schools can reopen after shutting to most students earlier this month as part of lockdown measures, a senior medical official in England said on Monday.

“We’ve always said schools should be the last to close and first to open but I think giving a more defined date than that is very difficult until we see what happens over the next few weeks,” said Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser at Public Health England.

Reporting by William James; writing by Costas Pitas; editing by Michael Holden

Mass testing in England’s schools still in pilot stage, test and trace head says

FILE PHOTO: Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace and Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock leave Downing Street in London, Britain December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

LONDON (Reuters) – Plans for mass-testing in English schools are still being piloted and have to be adjusted in light of a new more-transmissable variant of the coronavirus, the head of England’s test and trace scheme said on Monday.

“It’s still very much in the sort of pilot and evaluation stage,” Dido Harding told lawmakers.

“Since those pilots that we ran in the autumn… the new variant has emerged, and we currently have obviously much higher rates of infection.”

She added that she was speaking to the regulator to share data “so that we’re all aware of how these protocols need to evolve as the virus itself evolves.”

Reporting by Paul Sandle and Alistair Smout; editing by Costas Pitas

UK says vaccine manufacturing is ‘lumpy’ but still on course for targets

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s vaccine rollout is limited by a “lumpy” manufacturing process affecting supplies of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, but is on track to hit its targets, Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Monday.

The United Kingdom, which has the world’s fifth worst official death toll from COVID-19, is racing to be among the first major countries to vaccinate its population – seen as the best way to exit the pandemic and get the economy going again.

Britain has inoculated 3,857,266 people with a first dose and 449,736 with a second dose. On vaccines administered per 100 people, the United Kingdom is fourth in the world after Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Pfizer said on Friday it would temporarily reduce its deliveries to Europe of its vaccine against coronavirus infections while it upgrades its production capacity.

“There’s bound to be delays. Any new manufacturing process has challenges at the outset. It is lumpy, it begins to stabilise and get better and better week in, week out,” Zahawi told the BBC, adding that Pfizer was doing “really well”.

“They want to do more, which is why they’re reconfiguring to add volume to the whole world…That could delay supply but I’m confident we can meet our target.”

Britain aims to administer first doses of vaccine to 15 million people in the highest priority cohorts by mid-February.

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Pfizer said it was coordinating with the government to “work through the short-term impact of these changes to our January deliveries”.

“We understand a change to deliveries has the potential to create uncertainty,” a Pfizer spokeswoman said. “However, we can confirm the overall projected volumes of delivery to the UK remain the same for quarter one (January to March).”

Zahawi told LBC radio that Britain was hoping for 2 million vaccines a week from AstraZeneca by the end of January but that those numbers would not be reached until mid February.

Last Wednesday, AstraZeneca’s UK president said the firm would scale up to 2 million doses a week on or before the middle of February. A spokesman for AstraZeneca declined to comment further on Zahawi’s latest guidance.

VACCINE HOPES

Mass COVID-19 vaccines are seen as the best way to exit the pandemic, which has killed more than 2 million people worldwide, wiped out trillions of dollars in economic output and upended normal life for countless people.

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The United Kingdom is vaccinating 140 people per minute against COVID-19 on average.

“It is going well, we’re vaccinating on average 140 people, that’s first jab, literally a minute. That’s the average so some areas are doing better,” Zahawi told Sky.

Britain is currently rolling out the vaccine to the most vulnerable first, starting with those who are in care homes or over 80 years of age. In areas where a majority of over 80s have been offered a vaccine, letters are going out to the over 70s and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

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Zahawi said a 24-hour vaccine offering would begin to be piloted in London by the end of the month.

Essential workers such as teachers, the police and shop assistants could move to the top of the list for a vaccine once all those over 50 have been offered a shot, Zahawi said.

“Teachers, police officers, shop workers, those who through no fault of their own other than the work that they do may come into contact with the virus in much greater volume, should be top of the list,” Zahawi told Times Radio.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and Alistair Smout; editing by Paul Sandle, Philippa Fletcher and Mark Heinrich

Ibrahimovic scores twice as leaders Milan ease past Cagliari

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(Reuters) – AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice on his first Serie A start since returning from injury, helping his side to a 2-0 win at Cagliari on Monday as the league leaders moved three points clear at the top of the standings.

Ibrahimovic picked up a thigh injury in Milan’s win at Napoli on Nov. 22 that kept him out of action until last weekend when he returned as a substitute against Torino, but the evergreen Swede was fit enough to start in Sardinia.

He wasted no time in getting back among the goals, winning and converting a seventh-minute penalty, before adding a well-taken second seven minutes into the second half, taking his Serie A goal tally to 12 for the season, from just seven starts.

The only disappointing aspect to an otherwise comfortable win for Milan was the late dismissal of substitute Alexis Saelemaekers for two yellow cards picked up in quick succession.

Milan are on 43 points, three ahead of city rivals Inter Milan, and 10 clear of champions Juventus in fifth.

Cagliari remain in 17th, just one point above the relegation zone. They are without a win in their last 11 league games.

Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Pritha Sarkar