Sunday trading review continues the Government’s devolution drive

Sunday trading review continues the Government’s devolution drive
In his Emergency Budget this month, Chancellor George Osborne announced a consultation on the expansion of the Sunday trading laws, in what the Treasury has called “the biggest shake-up of Sunday trading laws since the 1990s”… By Gavin Matthews, head of retail at Bond Dickinson.
Under current laws, large stores (over 3,000sq ft) in England and Wales can open for a maximum of six hours on a Sunday, with certain exemptions such as shops at airports and railways stations. There are, however, no restrictions on Sunday trading hours north of the border in Scotland.
The rules in the rest of the UK were suspended during the London Olympics in 2012 and while the Prime Minister had stated that this was not to be viewed as a step towards broader reform, the reported surge in sales has kept the topic alive.
Mr Osborne wants to implement devolved powers to allow mayors and local councils the ability to determine the hours traders in their areas can remain open for. While the plans are designed to promote jobs and growth in the economy, there is by no means a consensus in the industry on the change.
Critics of the plans have expressed fears that Sunday opening hours could harm smaller independent shops who could find themselves competing against chain stores seven days a week.
The shopworkers’ union Usdaw is also hostile, saying that devolving powers to vary shop opening times to local authorities and elected mayors is deregulation by the back door. John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, claimed that extended Sunday trading is not good for business, as it spreads the same customer spend over a longer period. He also expressed the view that it isn’t good for staff wellbeing, as retail employees want to keep Sunday as the day on which they can spend quality time with their family.
On the other side of the debate is the suggestion that consumers will welcome the potential increase in choice. Recent data from Visa Europe shows that between 2010 and 2014 face-to-face spending has grown by 50% on Sundays, more than any other day of the week apart from Thursday, which has also grown by 50%. This is backed up by a recent Comres poll for the campaign group Open Sundays which revealed that more than two thirds of people (72%) believed that they should be able to shop whenever is convenient to them.
The Chancellor set out his economic case, citing research by the New West End Company, which promotes one of the British capital’s key shopping districts and estimates that extending Sunday trading by two hours in London alone would generate 3,000 new jobs and more than 200 million pounds a year in extra income. A separate study cited by The Economist found that simply by extending flexibility to shops over their opening window, from 9am to 7pm, could generate £15 billion over the next 20 years.
From the perspective of retailers, some feel that they lose sales to other businesses that are allowed to operate on Sundays, such as cafes, restaurants and cinemas.
Those high street retailers who frequently lament the impact that online shopping has had on business are likely to welcome changes that would drawing more people to the checkout tills.
However, even those retailers in favour of longer Sunday opening hours are likely to be concerned about the inconsistency in approach that may follow when the power to decide opening hours falls on local councils.
What is encouraging is that the Government is not going to be forcing changes on local communities. If the changes are to be made, it will be down to local authorities to decide on what is best for their community. While some will criticise this as inconsistency, others will point to the move as localism in action.

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