Morrisons boss vents fury over government inflexibility on Sunday trading hours
Dalton Philips, chief executive of Wm Morrison, told The Daily Telegraph businesses “would have gone bust” if they had behaved with the same intransigence as the Government displayed over Sunday opening hours.
Morrisons along with other supermarket groups attempted to make the most of yesterday’s six hour shopping limit. Tesco had 5,000 office staff helping out in the stores and re-opened its biggest shops at midnight last night to take full advantage of Christmas Eve trading.
Sainsbury’s unofficially extended trading with a “lock-in hour” to enable late shoppers to stock up.
Supermarket groups have been the most vocal in the efforts by retailers to persuade the Government to make Sunday, December 23 a “special case” in relaxing trading restrictions.
Mr Philips and Andy Clarke, his counterpart at Asda, both wrote to the Government asking for Sunday trading laws to be increased temporarily. “I am very supportive of Sunday trading, but they should have adapted this Sunday,” said Mr Philips. “It is ridiculous that they haven’t extended the hours for this Sunday, and that worries me.
“Businesses go out of business if they are not fleet of foot, because they can’t adapt. The Government hasn’t been able to adapt on this Sunday. I worry that if they can’t adjust on something small like that, how on earth are they going to be able to adapt on the big stuff?”
The Government told Morrisons that the Sunday hours could not be extended on December 23 because of “legal issues”.
Mr Philips said he supported the Coalition’s plans to cut the deficit, but added: “They are all working hard, we are all working hard. But some of the stuff we have just got to move on and get sorted out. We are very supportive of the Government trying to tackle the deficit, but there are things we can do to move faster.”
Mr Philips is also looking for government help on other fronts. He wants to change the base used for calculating the annual increase in business rates to movements in the Consumer Price Index over a number of months rather than the Retail Price Index in a single month.
Retailers face a damaging 2.6pc increase in business rates, costing them £175m next year.
Mr Philips warned that the economy will be “difficult again” next year. “I think we are into a stage now where this is the new norm. It is going to be like this for 24 months. It’s going to be very tough,” he added. Morrisons, the UK’s fourth largest supermarket, is under pressure with like-for-like sales down 2.1pc in the last quarter.
Mr Philips admitted Morrisons is in “transition” as it moves from a focus on traditional supermarkets to greater investment in fresh food.