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uk (76)

Gold Level Contributor

UK consumer group Which? is pushing for the government to take immediate action to protect the future of cash for those who need it, as its latest analysis shows a spike in the number of people forced to pay to withdraw their own money from cash machines.

The research shows that some towns and cities - among them some of England’s most deprived areas, where people are more likely to depend on cash - have seen a significant shift from free-to-use cashpoints to machines that generally charge up to £2 per withdrawal in recent years.

Which? says the findings highlight the need for urgent clarity and direction from the government on the role of cash in the future.

Gareth Shaw, Which? head of money, comments: “Legislation is a fundamental part of this, and there is an urgent need for a clear timeframe for when it will be in place, so that industry and regulators can work with the government to ensure that cash is protected as a payment method for those who have no other option.”
 
Originally published by
Finextra | March 2, 2021
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Silver Level Contributor

UK plans fintech visa fast-track scheme

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to inveil a fast-track fintech visa to attract top tech talent to post-Brexit Britain.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Sunak is keen to ensure that the UK’s £7bn fintech sector maintains its global standing in years to come in his 3 March Budget.

The plan is said to be a recommendation from ex-Worldplay chief executive Ron Kalifa in his independent review on how to boost the fintech sector post-Brexit.

The move comes as PwC reports that more than half (52%) of financial institutions say they expect to have more gig-based employees over the next three to five years.

PwC believes that gig economy employees will likely perform 15% to 20% of the work of a typical institution within five years, driven by continuous cost pressure and the need to access digitally skilled talent.

John Garvey, PwC’s global financial services leader, PwC US, comments: “Leaders in the industry are looking seriously at their workforces to evaluate which roles need to be performed by permanent employees and which can be performed by gig-economy workers, contractors or even crowd-sourced on a case-by-case basis. Covid-19 and remote working have opened the door to accessing talent outside of a firm’s physical location, including outside of the country. What we are seeing now is a talent marketplace for gig workers in financial services, competing to take advantage of their specialist skill set and boost productivity within their businesses.”

Sunak's bid to lure tech talent back to the UK will be welcomed by the country's fintech sector, which has been alarmed by a mass-exodus of European workers in the wake of Brexit.

A recent Oxford University study reveals that about half a million EU citizens left the UK permanently in 2020, with the vast majority coming from London.
 
Originally published by
Finextra | February 22, 2021
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Bronze Level Contributor

Image source: Expect Best/Pexels

Amid the ups and downs of the third Covid-19 lockdown, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has pleaded with banks to rethink their plans to shutter branches across the country.

The plea comes as several highstreet banks have announced the closure of hundreds of branches across the country. 

In an update posted yesterday by the regulator, it asked banks to “consider pausing or delaying new branch closures where possible, particularly where this could have [a] significant impact on vulnerable customers.”

Major banks like TSB, HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds are planning to close nearly 300 branches collectively in 2021.

In September 2020, the FCA introduced new requirements for banks considering closing branches, ensuring that customer needs and the ability to access their bank through alternative means, such as online banking, were taken into consideration.

The new rules ensure that vulnerable and hard-to-reach customers are made aware of the potential closures to help them make other arrangements, such as helping them access online banking and make payments.

Just last week HSBC announced plans to shutter 82 branches up and down the country as the Covid-19 pandemic has driven more people to access their bank accounts and make payments using alternative methods, such as mobile or online banking.

In fact, recent data from App Annie showed that banking apps from incumbent banks were some of the most downloaded in 2020.

Across the board, Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest were in the top five most downloaded apps, while for Millennials, a traditionally fintech-friendly age group, banks such as Halifax and Barclays were two of the most downloaded banking apps. 

Earlier on this week the FCA also announced it was considering increasing the contactless limit to £100, following a surge in popularity. 

In April 2020, the regulator upped the contactless limit from £30 up to £45 in an attempt to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus after World Health Organisation urged people to use the alternative payment method because it was found that banknotes could harbour the Covid-19 virus for several days.

Now, nearly 90 per cent of all transactions are made using the touch-free payment method and, following the limit increase, the average value of contactless payments jumped by nearly a third, from £9.60 in 2019 to £12.38 in 2020.

Originally published by
Aisling Finn | January 29, 2021
AltFi

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Bronze Level Contributor

Image source: Étienne Godiard/Unsplash

A look at what we might see from regulators in the UK over the next 12 months. 

Despite a bumpy first few weeks of 2021, 2020 is behind us and, while it’s important to prophesize what the new year could hold, it’s also imperative to look back and reflect on the year that’s just ended—hindsight is 2020 after all.

One of the barriers a lot of fintechs face, either those just trying to get off the ground or much bigger, rapidly expanding, is regulation and staying on the right side of the regulators—granted, that’s why the FCA developed regulatory sandboxes to help smaller fintechs get off the ground.

But, what barriers do fintechs still face? And what regulation are we likely to see being rolled out over the next 12 months? 

In this article, we take a look. We’ve focused on the UK for now.

BNPL Regulation

The unprecedented rise of buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) has left many calling for tighter rules for the rapidly expanding sector.

At the beginning of December, Capital One became the first major US bank to block BNPL credit card transactions, describing such transactions as “risky for customers and the banks that serve them.”

In December 2020, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) branded four Klarna ads as ‘irresponsible’ after several influencers posted ads for the fintech linking spending (and borrowing) money with happiness.

The sector came under fire once more as MPs gained traction for a cross-party campaign urging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to regulate BNPL firms, like Klarna, a bill that has since been rejected by Parliament.

Alex Marsh, head of Klarna UK, published a blog post just last week cementing Klarna’s position on tighter regulation here in the UK.

Marsh wrote: “We believe that proportionate regulation and consumer protections should be updated for the digital age rather than relying on rules conceived nearly 50 years ago.”

“This is why we believe it is right that the FCA should review how the sector is regulated—not only to support consumers now but also to protect them in the future as the sector continues to innovate.”

Other players in the BNPL space are also looking to tighten regulation here in the UK.

New Zealand firm Laybuy published a BNPL code of practice, which includes standards of advertising, assessing and supporting vulnerable customers, providing hardship assistance, and handling complaints, and is calling on other BNPL fintechs to sign it.

Despite the parliamentary setback, there is still a huge amount of scope (and desire) to regulate the BNPL sector.

Jonathon Segal, head of fintech and alternative finance at Fox Williams, told AltFi: “We think there is regulation coming down the line for buy-now-pay-later.”

“You can currently operate in the sector completely unregulated and Klarna, and other fintechs, have identified this and have said that actually, we want to be regulated. It can’t continue to be so unregulated, so we are expecting some form of regulation in this area.”

Hopefully, 2021 will be the year that regulators here in the UK will pounce on the opportunity to tighten rules for credit products given their surge in popularity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and also given the fact that key players in the sector are also calling out for it too.

Passporting

Some of the biggest fintechs in the UK had been utilising the EU Passporting channels to continue to operate in Europe, with Revolut being one of the most notable to have used the scheme.

In light of Brexit, fintechs were able to shift regulatory responsibility to European countries—with Ireland and Lithuania being some of the most popular destinations—to still be able to trade freely within Europe.

However, as of 31 December 2020, with the UK officially leaving the European Union, the ability to use passporting as a means of operating here in the UK was ended.

When Brexit was first brought to the table, the FCA said that firms using passporting to operate here in the UK could do so until they received the proper FCA authorisation, but given the number of high-profile fintechs using the scheme, is it likely to have a comeback?

With some of the finer details of the Brexit deal (believe it or not) still being fine-tuned, and the UK fintech sector being one of the strongest, not just in Europe but in the world, what’s stopping it?

In fact, Segal told AltFi that he thinks there could be something around the corner: “With the equivalence decision coming in the next six months, it won’t benefit all sectors but there will be pockets of activity that I think will be able to continue.”

Banking licences

Banking licences are bemoaned by fintechs as one of the hardest things to secure, for obvious reasons understandably.

Here in the UK, we have just two different iterations of banking licences, the full bank licence that the likes of Monzo and Starling hold, and then the E-Money Institution licence that fintechs like Revolut (although it has now also applied for a full banking licence) and TransferWise hold.

For instance, in Brazil fintechs can apply for a special version of a banking licence that offers them the same flexibility as a full banking licence, including the ability to offer credit products, something that German digital bank N26 has just secured

Similarly, Australia offers a restricted banking licence, that fintechs like TransferWise have been awarded, making firms limited “authorised deposit-taking institution” and enables it to gain access to Australia’s faster payments network.

Now that the UK has left the UK there’s even more reason for the FCA to cast its net wider and capture fintechs that might be put off by the more attractive environment offered by the EU, but then again, the UK is still the most prominent fintech destination in the continent. 

Segal told AltFI: “The interesting thing is we're seeing lots of banking-as-a-service fintechs in the UK. They basically take all the pain out of being a bank. It’s painful being a bank and so they pass on that cost to their customers who continue to be nimble fintechs and not weighed down with all that regulation.”

Open Banking

Just last week we marked the third anniversary of open banking as we know it, the Payment Services Directive II (PSD2), but as open banking adoption grows- now hitting 2.5m users across the UK- regulation will likely grow with it.

Already in 2021, we’ve seen the massive $5.3bn Visa/Plaid deal fall apart after pushback from the Department of Justice in the US, which served the two firms with a lawsuit in November 2020 citing Visa’s potential monopoly in the sector.

The growing popularity of open banking, particularly in sectors such as payments, could signal the need for tighter regulation in order to protect the interests of the consumer largely due to the fact that one of the greatest barriers to the adoption of open banking is a lack of trust. 

Charlotte Crosswell, CEO of fintech industry body Innovate Finance, told AltFI:  “Regulators are going to want to protect the person on the street who perhaps isn't as aware or financially savvy on some of the risks involved of some of these products.”

“What we want to ensure is we don't pile on so much regulation that it means that we're stifling innovation and that's the balance we've got to find. It’s been done in other segments of financial services in the past, you just have to have the right balance is found to have the consumer protection there.”

Moreover, PSD2, the very piece of regulation that brought open banking to life, is a European Union directive and as the UK has now officially left the EU, what’s to say that the UK won’t introduce its own iteration of the regulation.

Maybe without the fragmented EU regulations, the UK can take a step closer to open finance? Back in 2019, the FCA issued a Call for Input to explore the opportunities and risks arising from open finance, and with the deadline for input long gone, perhaps new open banking regulation is just around the corner?

Originally published by
Aisling Finn | January 25, 2021
AltFi

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Silver Level Contributor

Getty Images

Some of the laptops given out in England to support vulnerable children home-schooling during lockdown contain malware, BBC News has learned.

Teachers shared details on an online forum about suspicious files found on devices sent to a Bradford school.

The malware, which they said appeared to be contacting Russian servers, is believed to have been found on laptops given to a handful of schools.

The Department for Education said it was aware and urgently investigating.

A DfE official told BBC News: "We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices. And we are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

"DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue."

"We believe this is not widespread."

Geo, the firm which made the laptops, told the BBC: "We have been working closely with the Department for Education regarding a reported issue on a very small number of devices. We are providing our full support during their investigation.

"We take all matters of security extremely seriously. Any schools that have concerns should contact the Department for Education."

According to the forum, the Windows laptops contained Gamarue.I, a worm identified by Microsoft in 2012.

The government has so far sent schools more than 800,000 laptops, as it tries to distribute more than a million devices to disadvantaged pupils who may not have access at home.

"Upon unboxing and preparing them, it was discovered that a number of the laptops were infected with a self-propagating network worm," wrote Marium Haque, deputy director of Education and Learning at Bradford Council.

She recommended that schools also check their networks "as an added precaution".

Information security consultant Paul Moore told the BBC that the Gamarue worm "presents a very severe threat to any PC or network".

"Ideally users should reboot into safe mode and run a full scan with an anti-virus product," he said.

"However with this type of malware, it is advisable to seek professional assistance in order to ensure it has been correctly removed."

The malware in question installs spyware which can gather information about browsing habits, as well as harvest personal information such as banking details.

"The fact that these devices were not checked and scrubbed before being sent to vulnerable children is a concern," said George Glass, head of threat intelligence at security firm Redscan.

Originally published by
Jane Wakefield, Technology Reporter | January 22, 2021
BBC

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Gold Level Contributor

Software errors wipes 'thousands' of arrest records from police databases

Home Secretary Priti Patel is under fire after a bug led to the loss of 150,000 records from the Police National Computer.

Some 150,000 arrest records, including fingerprints, DNA and arrest histories, were accidentally wiped from police databases last week, in a major technological glitch that could impact future investigations.

That's according to the Times, which says 'crucial intelligence' about suspects was lost because of the bug, which occurred during a weekly 'weeding' session held to delete unwanted records from the database.

The UK's visa system also went into disarray following the glitch, forcing authorities to suspend the processing of applications by two days.

The incident could allow lawbreakers to go free because biometric evidence from crime scenes will not be flagged on the Police National Computer (PNC), the Times stated.

The PNC database system maintains millions of offender records, allowing law-enforcement officials to receive information on suspects and vehicles in real time. The system removes records automatically after a certain period of time depending on the suspect's history, the nature of the offence, and other factors.

In a statement, the Home Office, which owns and operates the PNC, said the issue had been fully resolved, and the impact of the error is being assessed.

The Office revealed that the records that were accidentally wiped were of individuals who were earlier arrested and released by the police, with no further action taken. Records of criminals were safe, the Office claimed.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said that efforts were ongoing to recover the lost records. He said the process has now been corrected to ensure that such indents are not repeated.

Labour is not satisfied with those statements, however, and has demanded home secretary Priti Patel take responsibility.

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said that Ms Patel, an Essex MP, must make a statement on the extent of the issue, disclose what went wrong, and also explain the steps that are being taken to ensure that criminal records are not deleted accidentally in future.

"This is an extraordinarily serious security breach that presents huge dangers for public safety," Mr Thomas-Symonds said.

"The incompetence of this shambolic government cannot be allowed to put people at risk, let criminals go free and deny victims justice," he added.

"Answers must be given."

Originally published by
Dev Kundaliya | January 15, 2021
computing

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Bronze Level Contributor

MediaCityUK in Salford is hosting the UK smart city accelerator programme

They will be developing and prototyping solutions to discover how cities can use technology to adapt to a post-Covid world with the aim of securing investment at the end of the programme.

Six companies will be taking part in the UK Smart City Innovation Testbed programme, hosted at Salford’s MediaCityUK, to discover how cities can use technology to adapt to a post-Covid world.

Solutions developed by the cohort span those that monitor air quality for employees, detect falls by the elderly and enable residents to converse with street furniture to better inform planners about attitudes to the built environment.

Accelerating solutions

The programme is the first of its kind in the UK and sees MediaCityUK partner with Connected Places Catapult, an expert in emerging technologies that accelerate future cities and transport solutions. It will be led by innovation specialists UP Ventures, which is based in Edinburgh and Manchester, and aims to enable its partners to identify opportunities, solve real-world problems and accelerate business growth.

The start-ups will develop and prototype their products with the aim of securing investment at the end of the programme and be able to access MediaCityUK’s technology infrastructure to deploy and test their products in a living lab environment. One of the aims is to explore how cities can evolve by using the Internet of Things (IoT).

The six companies taking part in the testbed, which will also receive online coaching and masterclasses, are:

Atmo Technology: an air quality data company that uses IoT devices and advanced algorithms to help employers monitor the pollution levels to which their staff are exposed;

Cyber Defence Services: has developed an IoT security platform OvertAI which monitors devices connected to the network and detects threats;

Hello Lamp Post: has created a novel way for people to tell town planners how they think their built environment can be improved with the company allowing people to converse with street furniture in over 25 countries around the world;

Secure Sensor Innovative Design: has built an IoT system that allows organisations such as care homes and housing associations to monitor temperature and humidity levels and can also detect sudden falls from elderly residents;

R-Com: has developed a comprehensive smart city solution with a suite of sensors that can count passengers on public transport, measure air quality and monitor vehicles on roads with the firm also providing real time analysis and IT support;

Pulse Systems: has built an IoT platform on top of UK made and designed sensors that help businesses make a building smart allowing for better understanding of workspaces and how they affect people and the environment.

“Working towards a post-pandemic world we have an opportunity to create a profoundly positive impact on the way people adapt and thrive,” said Steve Thomas, managing partner, UP Ventures. “At the heart of our smart city innovation testbed is a passion for technology, the role of places and how they can adapt to support how people live, work, play and learn.

“This is a challenging time for business, however, it has never been more important to innovate and that is why we intend to press on with supporting this talented group of innovators.”

The programme follows the Future of Health accelerator programme, which also took place at MediaCityUK and has reportedly seen significant investment and growth for the cohort of businesses involved.

Originally published by
Smart Cities World News Team | January 14, 2021
Smart Cities World News

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Gold Level Contributor

Santander, Tesco Bank and TSB have "serious vulnerabilities" in security that could leave their customers exposed to fraud, according to an investigation by consumer watchdog Which?.

Which? conducted a probe with independent security experts 6point6, scrutinising the online banking safety measures in place across the largest current account providers.

In some instances, it uncovered the potential for scammers to access information which could be used as the building blocks of a sophisticated scam, says Which?, arming a fraudster with enough sensitive information to pull off convincing cons, such as posing as a bank employee to persuade a customer to transfer money from their bank account to a fraudulent one.

Tesco Bank received the poorest rating for online security in Which?’s testing, with an overall score of just 46 per cent.

Researchers found multiple security headers missing from its webpages. It also failed to block testers from logging in to the website from two computer networks at the same time.

In addition, it failed to log out testers when switching to a different website or using the forward/back button to leave the session and return to it.

TSB finished second from bottom with a score of 51 per cent. Among the issues identified in Which? testing, the most serious was the firm’s login process, which did not meet new regulations on ‘strong customer authentication’ (SCA), introduced in March.

TSB has completed the roll out of two-factor authentication for mobile banking users, but has yet to complete the upgrade for Internet banking.

Santander rounded off the bottom three, with a score of 62 per cent. Testing found that authentication checks when logging in can be bypassed if a user designates a device as ‘trusted’. While the firm said it does ask for reauthorisation if it detects unusual activity, there’s no option to view or ‘distrust’ these devices.

At the other end of the table, Starling came out on top, with a score of 85 per cent. Experts found nothing concerning with its recently launched online banking website. This is partly due to limited functionality, as users can only change sensitive data via the app.

Barclays, HSBC and First Direct tied for second spot, with a score of 78 per cent, but had areas for improvement, says Which?.

Although each had strong login measures, testers only needed basic details to recover a Barclays membership number, and could log in using two different computer networks without being ejected from one.

In First Direct’s case, the pre-set security questions for forgotten passwords were too basic, claims Which?, while there was no alert for password changes or new payees and special characters can not be used in passwords.

Which? also asked 6point6 to test each provider’s banking app to identify potential flaws. It checked to see if firms detected testers downloading its app in an emulated device or running it on a rooted device, recently identified as a key weakeness that is being exploited by sophisticated hacking gangs.

Monzo, Nationwide and TSB failed to perform both emulator and root detection, although Monzo disagrees that this exposes its app to security weaknesses and told Which? that root and emulator detection can be unreliable.

Another test was for ‘code obfuscation’, which hides data that could be used by hackers to identify weaknesses or steal sensitive information. Virgin Money was the only bank tested where many ‘function calls’ were clearly visible. Function calls are part of the code that makes an app work and should be hidden to make life harder for attackers who might use the information to hack into a system.

Harry Rose, editor of Which? Magazine, says: “Banks must lead the battle against fraud, yet our security tests have revealed a big gap between the best and worst providers when it comes to keeping people safe from the threat of having their account compromised.

“The serious failings we have exposed with some providers reinforce the need for banks to up their game on scam protections, and for greater transparency and stronger standards on fraud reimbursement to be made mandatory for all banks and payment providers.”
 
Originally published by
Finextra | January 7, 2021
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Silver Level Contributor

Image - Unsplash - Sinitta Leunen

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s advertising watchdog has launched an investigation into budget carrier Ryanair, after receiving 1,600 complaints about an ad that suggested consumers should “jab & go.”

The Advertising and Standards Authority said Monday that some consumers objected to the ad, which featured a syringe and a small bottle labeled “vaccine.”

Some argued it was misleading to suggest the vaccine will be rolled out across the population by the spring and that travel restrictions would be over. Others objected to what they saw as the trivialization of the impact of the pandemic on society.

The ad promoted flights to sunny European destinations and offered seats for 19.99 pounds ($27), telling customers to “jab & go.”

Britain ramped up its vaccination program Monday by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca. But it’s unclear how quickly the nation can be vaccinated, as it is a huge endeavor with little precedent.

The budget carrier said the ads were factually accurate, given that two vaccines have been approved for use in the U.K. It also confirmed that bookings could be changed without fees.

“Some critics wish to complain just for the sake of getting noticed when it is clear that vaccines will mean an end to Covid travel restrictions in mid-2021,” the carrier said in a statement.

Originally posted by
AP News | December 4, 2021

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Bronze Level Contributor

Image: EPA

There will be "bumpy moments" for UK businesses and travellers as they get to grips with new EU rules, says government minister Michael Gove.

He said there would be "practical and procedural changes" when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

Mr Gove also urged people going to the EU to make extra checks, including mobile phone roaming charges.

EU ambassadors have approved the post-Brexit trade deal, paving the way for it to take effect on 1 January.

Under EU rules it can take effect provisionally, though the European Parliament will vote on it in January.

In the UK, MPs will vote on the deal on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said she expects to sign a continuity trade agreement with Turkey this week - a move that was not possible until the deal with the EU was struck.

Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast: "I'm sure there will be bumpy moments but we are there in order to try to do everything we can to smooth the path."

He warned businesses that time was "very short" to make the final preparations before the transition period ends.

"The nature of our new relationship with the EU - outside the Single Market and Customs Union - means that there are practical and procedural changes that businesses and citizens need to get ready for," he said.

"We know that there will be some disruption as we adjust to new ways of doing business with the EU, so it is vital that we all take the necessary action now."

Businesses have been urged to make sure they understand the new rules on importing and exporting goods, including the different rules that apply to trade with Northern Ireland, and to consider how they will make customs declarations on EU trade.

Mr Gove also encouraged travellers to EU destinations from 1 January to take out comprehensive travel insurance, check their mobile phone provider's roaming charges and make sure they have at least six months left on their passports.

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Measures are being put in place around the UK as it prepares to enter its new trading relationship with the EU.

The Scottish government has signed a lease to use a former military airfield in Dumfries and Galloway as an emergency lorry park for up to 240 vehicles if there is disruption at Cairnryan port near Stranraer.

Meanwhile, travellers from Great Britain will need to declare cash of €10,000 (£9,049) or more when entering Northern Ireland from 1 January.

The basics

  • A Brexit deal has been agreed, days before a deadline. It means that the UK and the EU can continue to trade without extra taxes being put on goods
  • What took so long? The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and actually left on 31 January 2020, but leaders had until the end of 2020 to work out a trade deal
  • There are big changes ahead. Although it's a trade deal that has been agreed, there will also be changes to how people travel between the EU and UK, and to the way they live and work

The trade deal was reached after months of fraught talks on issues including fishing rights and business rules.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would provide new legislative and regulatory freedoms to "deliver for people who felt left behind".

But fishermen's leaders have accused him of "caving in" and sacrificing their interests. Labour called it a "thin deal" that needed "more work" to protect UK jobs.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said the "bumpy moments" Mr Gove warned about were of the government's own making because it waited to strike the deal "so close to the wire".

She said the government had refused to engage with business on preparations, while dodging questions for months about the recruitment of customs agents and the development of IT systems.

"The government is treating its own incompetence as inevitable," she said.

'Lasting damage'

The SNP said it was "the understatement of the century" that the UK would face disruption, adding that millions of businesses would now face "a mountain of extra costs, red tape, bureaucracy and barriers to trade in just four days' time".

Conservative grandee Lord Heseltine has urged MPs and peers to abstain when voting on the deal, warning it will inflict "lasting damage" on the UK.

The former deputy prime minister said he would "in no way share the endorsement of the legislation", but that he would not vote against it because the consequences of a no-deal would be even graver.

Political parties in Northern Ireland that take their seats in Westminster - the DUP, the Alliance and the SDLP - are set to vote against the deal.

The DUP, which supports Brexit, said its eight MPs would oppose the deal because it did not address "damaging" issues caused by introducing customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Over the weekend, Chancellor Rishi Sunak sought to reassure the City of London that it will not be damaged by the deal.

He said they would be "doing a few things a bit differently" and looking at "how we make the City of London the most attractive place to list new companies anywhere in the world".

The chancellor said the deal was "an enormously unifying moment for our country" and it brought reassurance to those who were concerned about the impact on businesses.

Originally published by
BBC News | December 28, 2020

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Gold Level Contributor

Bitcoin cash outs arrive at 16,000 ATMs in the UK

Cryptocurrency holders can now cash out their bitcoin at 16,000 ATMs across the UK thanks to a collaboration between East London-based Cryptocurrency company BitcoinPoint and independent cash machine opwerator Cashzone.

With interest in bitcoin surging, user-friendly processes to securely buy, sell and use cryptocurrency have long been a hurdle to widespread adoption.

BitcoinPoint has been working to break down these barriers with a mobile app that makes it possible to buy and sell bitcoin at a network of agents, from Bureaus de Change to newsagents, as well as online through an instant bank transfer solution via Open Banking.

“When we started the service early 2018, there was not enough emphasis on making it easier for people to simply buy £5 of bitcoin,” says BitcoinPoint CEO and former Credit Suisse VP Benoit Marzouk. “Since registering on a crypto exchange could be a complex process for non-tech savvy people, the scarce availability of bitcoin ATMs made accessibility of bitcoin problematic.“

The company, which has so far handled 20,000 transactions online and in store, believes the collaboration with Cashzone will finally deliver on the potential for mass adoption that will allow bitcoin to compete on a level playing field with fiat currencies.

To withdraw cash, bitcoin holders download the app, enter the amount desired to be withdrawn, scan a QR code, and receive an SMS message with a pin code to be entered at the ATM — no card or bank membership is required and the transaction is processed within seconds.
 
Originally posted by
Finextra | December 23, 2020

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Gold Level Contributor

Image: Getty Images

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the furlough scheme for one month until the end of April next year.

He said the move would provide "certainty for millions of jobs and businesses".

It means the government will continue to pay up to 80% of the wages of workers who have been furloughed.

Mr Sunak also confirmed he would be extending the government-guaranteed Covid-19 business loan schemes until the end of March.

These changes come in the run-up to the next Budget, which the chancellor confirmed would take place on 3 March 2021.

The roll-out of vaccinations has provided hope for businesses struggling to get through a winter of stop-start measures to control the virus. But it is likely to be several months before enough of the population has been covered to allow for anything like business as usual.

"Our package of support for businesses and workers continues to be one of the most generous and effective in the world - helping our economy to recover and protecting livelihoods across the country," Mr Sunak said.

"We know the premium businesses place on certainty, so it is right that we enable them to plan ahead regardless of the path the virus takes, which is why we're providing certainty and clarity by extending this support."

The move drew criticism from the opposition. Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said Mr Sunak had "waited until the last possible minute to act, leaving businesses in the dark with less than 24 hours before they have to issue redundancy notices".

She added: "Rishi Sunak's irresponsible, last-minute decision-making has left the UK with the worst recession of any major economy."

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But CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said the package would "bring some much-needed certainty and respite" for businesses.

"Stable employer contributions and an extension to the Job Retention Scheme until the end of April will mean the scheme continues to protect people's livelihoods," she added.

"And with cashflow difficulties still at the forefront of the minds of many business owners, continued access to government-backed loans through to spring will bring great comfort."

Criteria unchanged

The government will continue to pay up to 80% of the salary of employees for hours not worked until the end of April, with a cap of £2,500 a month.

Employers will only be required to pay the wages, National Insurance (NI) contributions and pensions for hours worked, as well as NI contributions and pensions for hours not worked.

The eligibility criteria for the UK-wide scheme will remain unchanged and these changes will continue to apply to all devolved administrations, the government said.

Originally published by
BBC News | December 17, 2020

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With time running out for the UK and EU to reach a trade agreement - and the prospect of no deal back on the agenda - the government has been talking again about an "Australian-style" relationship with the EU in the future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says, "There is now a strong possibility that we will have a solution that is more like an Australian relationship with the EU than a Canadian relationship with the EU".

Just to be clear though, an Australian-style Brexit would mean no trade deal with the EU and would see the UK trading instead under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

This is what Australia largely does but its former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull says "Australians wouldn't regard our trade relationship with Europe as a satisfactory one".

He's warned the UK, "be careful what you wish for".

So how does Australia trade with the EU?

Although Australia doesn't have an overall free trade deal with the EU, it does have a series of agreements on things like agricultural goods, wine and product standards, which make trade easier.

If the UK's talks with the EU were to break down abruptly, the UK would not have any such agreements. With no deal, it would be facing an even more limited trading relationship with the EU than Australia has (although Northern Ireland would be treated slightly differently).

It's also important to remember that trade between Australia and the EU is very different to trade between the UK and the EU.

Australia is on the other side of the world, whereas the UK is the EU's next-door neighbour. That means Australia doesn't do nearly as much trade with it as the UK does.

And it doesn't rely on the EU in the way the UK does, for the operation of just-in-time supply chains in sectors such as cars, pharmaceuticals and food.

In other words, border checks and delays - which happen much more when you don't have trade deals - have far less impact on EU-Australia trade than they would on EU-UK trade.

Even so, Australia wants to improve its trading relationship with the EU - the two sides have been negotiating a free trade deal since 2018.

Mr Turnbull told BBC Question Time, "Australians would not regard our trade relationship with Europe as being a satisfactory one...there are very big barriers to Australian exports of agriculture products in particular and a lot of friction in the system in terms of services."

How does trade between the UK and the EU work now?

The EU is the UK's biggest single trading partner. In 2019, it accounted for:

  • 43% of UK exports
  • 51% of UK imports

As an EU member state, the UK was part of its trading system - the customs union and the single market. This meant there were no tariffs (or taxes) on goods traded between the two, and minimal border checks.

The UK is still in this system until the end of December (as part of the transition phase with the EU).

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

 

Both sides have until then to reach a new free-trade agreement, which would get rid of tariffs and quotas but not new border bureaucracy.

If they can't, then they'd have to trade on WTO rules - as Australia does.

What is the WTO?

The WTO is the place where countries negotiate the rules of international trade - there are 164 members and if they don't have free-trade agreements with each other, they trade under basic "WTO rules".

Every member has a list of tariffs and quotas (limits on the number of goods) that they apply to other countries with which they don't have a deal. These are known as WTO schedules.

Don't other countries trade with the EU on WTO rules?

Yes, examples include the United States and China and Brazil.

In fact, it's any country with which the EU has not signed a free-trade deal. That's when WTO rules kick in.

But like Australia those big economies don't just rely on basic WTO rules - they have all done other deals with the EU to help facilitate trade.

The US, for example, has at least 20 agreements with the EU that help regulate specific sectors, covering everything from wine and bananas to insurance and energy-efficiency labelling.

Why is the government talking about Canada?

The government has said repeatedly that it wants a free-trade deal along the lines of the one the EU has with Canada.

But the UK and the EU have been trying to negotiate an agreement that would have no tariffs or quotas at all.

Whereas the EU's deal with Canada does include tariffs and quotas (on some agricultural produce for example) and it had to be negotiated line by line over a long period of time.

What happens if there's no trade deal?

The UK would have to trade with the EU on WTO rules - at least, initially.

In this scenario, the EU would impose its tariffs on imported UK goods.

The average EU tariff is pretty low (about 2.8% for non-agricultural products) but in some sectors tariffs can be quite high.

Cars would be taxed at 10% with some agricultural tariffs higher still - rising to an average of more than 35% for dairy products.

This would have a big impact on UK businesses selling their goods to the EU.

What would the UK do?

The UK would do the same, and impose its tariffs on imported EU goods.

It has already released details of the tariffs it will charge from January 2021 to countries with which it does not have a free trade deal.

In some areas, they will be imposed to protect UK producers - in the car sector, for example, and on most agricultural products, to avoid "additional disruption for UK farmers and consumers". That will lead to higher prices in the UK for some EU goods.

But the government is also removing some of the tariffs it has been charging as part of the EU - in areas, for example, where there isn't that much domestic UK production that needs protecting.

Here are some items that are having their tariffs cut to zero.

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It's important to remember that the WTO's "most favoured nation" rules limit room for manoeuvre in the event of no deal.

The UK couldn't for example lower tariffs for the EU alone, in order to keep trade going. It would have to treat the rest of the world in the same way, which could lead to cheap imports flooding the UK economy, and harming domestic businesses.

And it's not just about the tariffs - there are also what are called "non-tariff barriers". In many areas of the economy they are far more important.

Non-tariff barriers include things like product standards, safety regulations and sanitary checks on food and animals. Some of them will apply with or without a deal, but businesses that trade with Europe fear that no deal in particular could lead to lengthy delays.

Eventually negotiations on some kind of deal would have to begin again, but it could take some time.

What about services?

All of this refers only to the trade in goods.

The trade in services between the UK and the EU is also of critical importance. The kind of trade deal the two sides have been trying to negotiate wouldn't say very much about services anyway.

But no deal would be an even greater challenge.

And companies on both sides would be having to adjust to that change at the same time as trying to deal with the impact of coronavirus.

Originally published by
Chris Morris | December 11, 2020
BBC News

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Silver Level Contributor

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is expected to be rolled out in the UK next week         Photo News

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has claimed Brexit allowed the UK to approve a Covid vaccine more quickly than other European Union (EU) countries.

"We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they're done because of Brexit," he said in an interview with Times Radio.

And the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, tweeted: "We could only approve this vaccine so quickly because we have left the EU."

The EU - through the European Medicines Agency (EMA) - has yet to approve a coronavirus vaccine.

But the idea that Brexit enabled the UK to press ahead and authorise one is not right.

It was actually permitted under EU law, a point made by the head of the UK's medicines regulator on Wednesday.

What are EU rules on approving vaccines?

Under European law a vaccine must be authorised by the EMA, but individual countries can use an emergency procedure that allows them to distribute a vaccine for temporary use in their domestic market.

Britain is still subject to those EU rules during the post-Brexit transition period which runs until the end of the year.

The UK's own medicines regulator, the MHRA, confirmed this in a statement last month.

And its chief executive, Dr June Raine, said on Wednesday that "we have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until 1 January".

We asked Mr Rees-Mogg about his comment that: "Last month we changed the regulations so a vaccine did not need EU approval which is slower."

He replied with part of the text of an "explanatory memorandum" which accompanied new laws passed by Parliament last month.

"The regulation of human medicines is an area of shared competence between the EU and Member States under article 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU)," it reads.

"But in light of the EU's comprehensive exercise of the competence, Member States are precluded from exercising the competence nationally."

It is true that, in general, regulation of new medicines is done on an EU-wide basis. But that does not take account of the emergency provisions in EU law which Dr Raine refers to.

At the government briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked whether the UK's vaccine approval was down to a "Brexit bonus".

He refused to answer directly and thanked the NHS and the Vaccine Taskforce instead.

Moving faster

The MHRA is well-regarded as a world leader in the regulation of medicine, and it has certainly chosen to move faster with vaccine approval than the EMA.

"Our speed or our progress has been totally dependent on the availability of data in our rolling review, and the rigorous assessment and independent advice we have received," Dr Raine said.

But again, the MHRA didn't have to rely on Brexit to do that.

For example, the European Commission confirmed earlier this week that Hungary - an EU member - could use a Russian Covid vaccine in its domestic market if it chose to do so.

'Most appropriate'

The EMA appeared to criticise the UK approach in a statement which said it is using a slightly slower method for licensing Covid vaccines than the UK.

It considers this approach to be "the most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency, to grant all EU citizens access to a vaccine and to underpin mass vaccination campaigns".

The agency said this longer process was based on a wider body of evidence. The EMA has said it will decide by 29 December whether to grant provisional approval to the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech.

EU distribution

That means distribution of the vaccine across the EU - if it is approved - won't start until January, when the relevant EU laws will no longer apply in the UK.

The government says it can be more nimble outside the EU, amidst an ongoing debate about how closely it should stick to EU regulations in all sorts of policy areas.

But the fact that the UK is the first country in the world to approve this vaccine has got nothing directly to do with Brexit.

Originally published by
BBC News | December 2, 2020

 

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Silver Level Contributor
The Tower Transit buses will be primarily charged overnight at the depot
 

London bus operator Tower Transit is introducing 37 fully electric double-decker buses in the UK capital. The company, part of the SeaLink Travel Group, is working with Siemens Smart Infrastructure to install the charging infrastructure.

Westbourne Park garage, on the Great Western Road, is the operator’s first depot in London incorporating fully electric routes with power infrastructure, maintenance and charging facilities. Bus routes 23 and C3 operate from the Westbourne Park site.

Zero emissions

The first few Optare Metrodecker zero-emission double-deckers are already in operation with the remaining fleet expected to be in service in the coming months.

The conversion of the Westbourne Park depot is part of the capital’s plans to deliver greener and cleaner transport for all Londoners. The Metrodecker electric vehicles (EVs) deployed by Tower Transit will reportedly save more than 1,800 tons in greenhouse gas emissions well-to-wheel in each year of operation versus a Euro VI bus.

“As part of our aim, to tackle London’s air-quality crisis, we are continuing to grow our electric bus fleet, which is already one of the largest in Europe,” said Claire Mann, Transport for London’s (TfL) director of bus operations.

She added: “To support this growth, we need the right infrastructure in place. This new charging facility at Westbourne Park is another step in the right direction. Not only do electric buses reduce emissions but they also provide customers with smoother, quieter journeys and the new double deck Optare buses on routes 23 and C3 will come with the latest safety features and include USB chargers at seats. 

Siemens has provided 34 AC and four DC Sicharge units (AC22 and UC200) supplying a total charging power of 2 megawatts at the refitted Westbourne Park garage. The charging infrastructure is sited on the 180-metre elevated bus deck extension that was built over railway lines as part of the Crossrail project in 2017.

“As part of our aim, to tackle London’s air-quality crisis, we are continuing to grow our electric bus fleet, which is already one of the largest in Europe”

Buses are recharged primarily overnight or during operational breaks via the AC22s. The high-power UC200 DC charging-units provide fast charging; transferring power three times faster, compared with AC charging technology, so vehicles can be charged during shorter periods of parking time.

As well as commissioning the installation, Siemens is providing a preventative maintenance programme and ongoing 24/7 service level support for the infrastructure. When electrifying depots there are a number of challenges to overcome: integrating with existing infrastructure; solving any grid or power demands; and aligning the route and vehicle characteristics to support the most optimum vehicle and infrastructure solution.

“Helping Tower Transit deliver its first depot for fully-electric routes, with these iconic double decker buses, is an important milestone for both the operator and London, as progress continues to be made with improving the air quality and lives of people in the capital,” said Matthias Rebellius, managing board member of Siemens and CEO of Smart Infrastructure.

He added: “The work at Westbourne Park reinforces Siemens’ growing reputation as one of the world’s leading providers of electrical infrastructure and transport solutions, which are paving the way towards the electrification of the transport sector.”

The Optare Metrodecker electric bus is designed and built at Optare’s facility in Sherburn near Leeds. London’s electric bus fleet of more than 380 electric buses is one of the largest in Europe.

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld News Team | November 30, 2020
Smart Cities World

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Platinum Level Contributor

 

The anti-inflammatory drug colchicine, usually used to treat gout, will be included in the UK’s nationwide RECOVERY trial program aimed at seeking a cure for the coronavirus infection, its researchers have said.

Colchicine will be tested in a randomized trial involving 2,500 patients across the UK who will receive the drug in addition to the existing standard of care for a total of 10 days, the RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy) program said on its website.

The data received from the 2,500 volunteers will then be compared to the treatment results of at least 2,500 other patients, who will receive only standard treatment. The major goal of the study is to assess whether the drug can reduce the mortality rate in severe Covid-19 cases within the scope of 28 days since the start of the treatment. Other parameters assessed will involve an impact on hospital stay and the need for lung ventilation. 

Colchicine is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory treatment against gout. Since severe inflammation caused by an overactive immune system is still a major aspect of the most serious Covid-19 cases, which can lead to lung damage and death, the researchers hope that the drug could reduce some of the most dangerous symptoms. 

“We’ve already shown that treatment with one anti-inflammatory drug, dexamethasone, can reduce deaths in the most severely ill Covid-19 patients,” Professor Martin Landray from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, who co-leads the trial, said.

The drug is relatively cheap and readily available, the scientists note, adding that, if successful, it could provide an immediate boost to anti-Covid efforts around the globe. “Colchicine is an attractive drug to evaluate in the RECOVERY trial as it is very well understood, inexpensive and widely available,” Professor Peter Horby, another member of the Nuffield Department of Medicine and the study co-chair, said. 

Colchicine is not the only drug being investigated within the UK program, involving 176 hospital sites across the country and with over 18,000 patients recruited so far. The list includes anti-inflammatory medicine tocilizumab, plasma from donors who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies against the disease, and the pain relief drug aspirin, which the scientists plan to use against blood clotting in Covid-19 patients. 

Another experimental treatment involves the Regeneron antibody cocktail used to treat US President Donald Trump when he contracted coronavirus. The RECOVERY trials of an antibiotic called azithromycin, which has already been recommended for use against Covid-19 in some countries, including Russia, is also in full swing. Enrolment of patients ended on Friday and scientists are collecting data.

The news about colchicine came as the UK registered 16,022 new cases on Friday. The UK death toll from the virus now stands at 57,551. The UK government said earlier on Friday that it had asked national regulators to assess a vaccine candidate developed by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, expecting that four million jabs could be ready for rollout in December. 

Concerns over the vaccine remain, however, as the clinical trial results showed some surprisingly diverging data depending on the dosage. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday that the jab would be tested again, adding that it would probably not delay the vaccine’s authorization.

 

Published on RT.com on 27th November 2020

Link to Original Article

 

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Gold Level Contributor

Image: Reuters

A new security law being unveiled on Tuesday threatens telecoms giants with hefty fines if they fail to tighten security.

The Telecommunications Security Bill bans the involvement of Chinese firm Huawei in the UK's 5G mobile network.

But it also says that companies which fail to meet deadlines for higher security requirements could face enormous fines.

Some of these could be 10% of turnover, or more than £100,000 a day.

Attempts to ban Huawei from the 5G network have been continuing for more than a year. But the new bill is the first step in enshrining such bans in law, and offers details of exactly how it will work - assuming Parliament passes it.

The bill provides government with national security powers, allowing it to give instructions to the big telecoms companies such as BT about how they use "high risk" vendors including Huawei.

But a new measure contained within the draft law is that any companies which do not live up to expectations will face heavy fines for failure. The threatened sum of £100,000 a day would only be used in the case of "continuing contravention", the government said.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, will be given the job of policing the rules - along with new powers it may need to do so.

The move to formally legislate follows months of national and international political wrangling over the company's threat to security and its alleged links to the Chinese state.

Initially, the UK decided that Huawei equipment should be removed from the sensitive part of the core network, and only make up a maximum of 35% of the non-core systems. The deadline was set to be 2023.

However, amid pressure from the United States, it was revised to order the complete removal of Huawei kit from the entire 5G network by 2027.

In recent days, Huawei has commissioned economic research showing that a ban on its 5G equipment will prove a costly setback to the UK's 5G ambitions, and has mounted a publicity campaign with a simple message to the government - you're making a big mistake.

 

The Chinese company seemed to think that the defeat of Donald Trump, whose US administration had lobbied so hard for the ban, might make ministers think again. If so, this bill shows that assumption was wrong, though both Huawei and the mobile operators will be relieved that the government has resisted pressure from some Conservative MPs to move the deadline to remove its equipment forward to 2025.

Huawei may also be more focused now on making sure other countries in Europe do not follow the UK's lead. Meanwhile, the mobile operators are getting on with signing new deals with Nokia and Ericsson, and seem to be markedly less vocal in their claims that taking Huawei out of the equation would be a costly catastrophe.

"We are investing billions to roll out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country, but the benefits can only be realised if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks," Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said.

 

"This groundbreaking bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks."

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the security obligations were likely to include things such as rules on who had access to sensitive parts of the "core" network, how security audits were conducted, and protecting customer data.

The technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre, Dr Ian Levy, said "our national networks and operators need to know what is expected of them".

He added: "We are committed to driving up standards, and this bill imposes new telecoms security requirements which will help operators make better risk-management decisions."

Huawei, however, dismissed such concerns about its own operations.

"This decision is politically motivated and not based on a fair evaluation of the risks," said Huawei vice-president Victor Zhang.

"It does not serve anyone's best interests as it would move Britain into the digital slow lane and put at risk the government's levelling-up agenda."

Analysis by Rory Cellan-Jones - Technology Correspondent
BBC | November 24, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor
How the UK' first electric forecourt will look when it opens in November
 
According to the partners, they want to offer the convenience and amenities of a petrol station to electric car drivers looking to charge their vehicle in “all-new ways”.
 

Two eco-companies have partnered to bring high-powered EV charging forecourts for electric vehicles to the UK.

SportsArt, a green fitness brand that develops sustainable gym equipment, and Gridserve a tech-enabled international sustainable energy business, will complete construction this month of the first all-new Electric Forecourt, located close to Braintree, Essex. The Essex location will be the first of more than 100 sites planned to be built out by Gridserve in the next five years.

Electric car drivers

According to the partners, they want to offer the convenience and amenities of a petrol station to electric car drivers looking to charge their vehicle in “all-new ways”. 

The site will have 30 rapid car chargers in total. Another 24 will be provided by ABB and provide charging for all EV models. There will also be six Tesla Superchargers dedicated to the brand’s models.

“We’re excited to be a part of this progressive partnership with Gridserve,” said Ruben Mejia, executive vice president of SportsArt. “SportsArt’s mission is to deliver sustainable and eco-friendly options; the Electric Forecourt is a prime example of an innovative opportunity that will bring these alternatives to an entire community.”

While vehicles are charging, drivers will be able to take advantage of the amenities including SportsArt’s upright cycles that allow users to burn calories while also reducing their carbon footprint

Key amenities of the Electric Forecourt include:

  • Electric charging stations to accommodate 36 electric vehicles that can deliver up to 350kW of charging power within 20 to 30 minutes
  • Wellbeing area featuring SportsArt’s G576U upright cycles
  • Lounge with high-speed wi-fi, high end washrooms and children’s area
  • Retail space with convenient supermarkets and coffee shops for customers to browse as their cars charge
  • Designated spot for non-EV drivers to come and learn more about low-emission motoring.

While vehicles are charging, drivers will be able to take advantage of the amenities including SportsArt’s upright cycles that allow users to burn calories while also reducing their carbon footprint. The technology captures human energy produced through pedalling and turns it into usable energy to contribute to the power grid for charging vehicles.

“Partnering with SportsArt forms a key part of our mission to support education initiatives, helping people to understand more about energy, and how clean energy can help contribute towards healthy and more sustainable lifestyles,” said Toddington Harper, founder and CEO of Gridserve.

“This fully-loaded customer experience will cater to a range of consumer and driver needs.”

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld News Team | November 4, 2020
Smart Cities World

 
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Bronze Level Contributor

The U.K.’s Eat Out to Help Out campaign — which offered a 50 percent discount at restaurants on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during August — was dramatically successful in boosting sales. The taxpayers shelled out $647 million for the rescue program, which subsidized the cost of meals and nonalcoholic drinks.

A new study, however, said the program may have also contributed to boosting the spread of COVID-19, Bloomberg reported.

The study, conducted by the University of Warwick, found that the program may have pumped up coronavirus cases from 8 percent to 17 percent during the summer alone. And the resulting asymptomatic infections may have helped fuel the current surge of coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom, Bloomberg said.

In some areas, there was “both a notable increase in new COVID-19 infection clusters within a week of the scheme starting, and again a deceleration in infections within two weeks of the program ending,” said Thiemo Fetzer, an associate professor of economics.

Now, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done an about-face. In August, his goal was to reopen the economy. He has now ordered a one-month stay-at-home policy for England beginning on Thursday (Nov. 5).

Johnson’s restaurant stimulus program was so successful that visits more than doubled in the last week of the program compared with the same period a year earlier, Bloomberg said. The discount offered was worth as much as 10 pounds per person to eat out in tens of thousands of participating restaurants.

The U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that “at least 35 million meals were served up in the first two weeks alone; that is equivalent to over half of the U.K. taking part and supporting local jobs in the hospitality sector.”

In September, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that patrons of restaurants and bars are more likely to contract COVID-19.

Originally published by
Pymnts | November 2, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor

Image: Jacob King

Covid tests with results within an hour are being piloted in universities - which could help students in England get home for Christmas.

More than a million students will have to travel from their term-time accommodation in December.

This has raised concerns about spreading coronavirus as students move across the country between areas with different levels of infection.

In Scotland universities could switch to more online teaching in January.

Christmas migration

Universities have called for a testing system with a rapid turnaround of results.

But there have been questions about the feasibility of how quickly this could be scaled up - and how to avoid what the SAGE scientific advisory group calls the "significant risk" of students causing outbreaks by moving for Christmas and New Year.

De Montfort and Durham universities are now running pilot projects for rapid Covid testing, including identifying those who might be infectious but have no symptoms.

 

In England, about 1.2 million students are expected to move in December from a university to a home address in another region, where there might be different levels of infection and restrictions.

This includes 200,000 students travelling away from universities in London, 235,000 from the south east, 120,000 leaving the north west, 123,000 out of Yorkshire and Humber and 120,000 from the West Midlands.

In Scotland, 150,000 students will be travelling home.

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Students in Scotland have protested about how they are being treated in the pandemic - Image: Jane Barlow

A decision, involving all four devolved governments and education ministries in the UK, is awaited on the logistics of getting students home for Christmas, in a way that will not cause Covid outbreaks.

So far this term there have been virus cases in 118 universities across the UK, according to tracking by the Unicovid website, with tens of thousands of students having to self-isolate.

Staggered end of term

England's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed an early end to teaching in person, creating a two-week buffer in which to get students home for the holidays.

In Scotland, Education Secretary John Swinney has suggested a staggered end of term and has not ruled out students being kept in universities over the break, if "we have a situation where the virus has not been controlled".

Universities, who would face the challenge of keeping students in Christmas isolation, have called for a faster system of mass testing.

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Universities want tests with a rapid turnaround of results - Image: PA Media

"Enhanced testing capacity - including faster turnaround of results and effective contact tracing - will help to contain outbreaks at universities and limit transmission to the wider community," says a Universities UK spokesman.

The 'lateral flow tests' now being piloted are intended to find out whether someone has "high enough levels of Covid-19 in their body to make them infectious to others", says a statement from Durham University.

Using a nose and throat swab, the tests would be self-administered and would not need a laboratory to process the results.

Switching to online

The Department for Health and Social Care says the aim of the pilots would be to "turn around rapid results within an hour at the location of the test".

And the DHSC says the pilots at Durham and De Montfort will see how such tests could be used "at scale".

Durham says the pilot project, beginning this week for staff and students in two of its colleges, will be able to deliver results within 20 to 30 minutes.

Once students have been safely removed from university in December there will then be questions about how they can be brought back in January, without triggering another wave of campus outbreaks.

The Scottish government says there could be more online teaching at the start of next term and in areas of "high prevalence" of infection in-person teaching might be reserved for those taking subjects which needed hands-on training.

The UCU lecturers' union has threatened legal action against the continuing use of in-person teaching, while the SAGE advisory group has called for as much teaching as possible to be online.

The DHSC says the testing pilots are "building the foundations for a mass testing programme" which could also help reduce the number of school pupils having to be sent home in Covid outbreaks.

Originally published by
Sean Coughlan | October 27, 2020
BBC News

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