We'll be using the euro here – next year

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The Independent Online

Cash tills across the country will be ringing up in euros from 1 January, even though Britain is not a member of the new currency.

WH Smith, Tie Rack and the Safeway chain are the latest to join a growing list of stores confirming they will take the single currency when it becomes legal tender in 11 EU states next year.

The Confederation of British Industry and the British Retail Consortium believe it is inevitable that British shops and businesses will welcome the new notes and coins because they are anxious to maximise their share of the multi-million-pound tourism industry, a process becoming known as "euro creep".

According to the BRC, the euro will become an unofficial second currency in Britain, occupying the same role as the US dollar in many parts of the world. Privately, senior ministers have expressed the hope that support for the euro will increase dramatically as people become familiar with the notes and coins.

British holiday makers returning from abroad will find there may be no need to change their euros back to sterling as shops at stations, ports, airports and major tourist centres are already converting their tills.

These range from Harrods in Knightsbridge to Safeway in Harwich and include selected branches of Marks & Spencer, Selfridges, John Lewis, Dixons, Virgin stores, Tie Rack and WH Smith.

In Northern Ireland, supermarket chains are already training staff to take euros so that they can continue the lucrative cross-border trade with shoppers from the Irish Republic, one of the states due to convert next year.

Meanwhile, France is running out of cash as the early stages of the great switch to euros create havoc in the shops. As the 31 December deadline draws nearer, more French people are paying cash into their bank accounts.

The Bank of France, however, has stopped producing new franc notes and coins to balance things out, which means the general cash supply is already running low. In response, shops are begging customers to avoid using cash.

Storekeepers and restaurateurs are far from happy at the situation. As the cash shortage worsens, shops have to perform smaller and smaller card transactions. Because they pay a small percentage on these sales, industry has started to complain that it is a victim of the Bank of France's shortsightedness.

"The situation has become ridiculous," said a Parisian bar owner. "People are using cards to pay for a single cup of coffee." The trend is starting to worry the investment community. As one French retail analyst explained: "This kind of confusion is the sort of thing we hoped could be avoided. The shops are taking a big hit because of all the credit card use and customers are buying less."

France can expect to face a baffling two-tier introduction of the euro. From mid- December, the new coins will be introduced, but everyone will have to wait a further fortnight for the notes to become available. During those two weeks, it is not clear whether francs and euros can be mixed.