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Councils to gain control over Sunday trading times

Mayors and local councils will be able to tailor Sunday trading rules to their regional needs under new government plans.

A consultation has been launched today (5 August) into reforms that would allow shops and high streets to stay open for longer on Sundays to compete with online retailers and shopping centres.

Councils will be able to pinpoint which local areas would benefit from longer opening hours on what is often the busiest day of the week to allow them to “grow and thrive”.

The government would promote policies that support retailers, such as cutting business rates for small shops and stopping “over-zealous parking practices”.

Business minister Anna Soubry MP said: “Modern Sunday trading laws have the potential to create thousands of jobs across the country and help British businesses to thrive.”

The current trading laws were implemented over 20 years ago, before high-street shops faced serious competition from online sellers. They prevent large stores, such as supermarkets and department stores, from opening for more than six hours, while small shops covering less than 3,000 sq ft can stay open all day.

Reforms could allow major cities to compete for international tourism by increasing consumer choice, the government says. It follows Paris’ recent extension of Sunday trading opening hours in areas of higher demand. Dubai and New York shops also stay open at night every day of the week.

Cllr Gary Porter, chairman of the LGA, backed the plans but warned that councils must still be able to choose for themselves without facing “undue restriction or unnecessary bureaucracy”.

He said: “It is right that councils, in consultation with their residents and local businesses, should be given the flexibility to decide how to drive growth and best attract business to their local high street.

“However, it’s vital that any changes are a ‘can do’ choice rather than a ‘must do’ duty imposed by central government.

“Taking decisions closer to where people live stands to bring significant economic and social benefits and is the most effective way to create jobs, build homes, strengthen healthy communities and protect the vulnerable across all parts of the country.”

The ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign says the prime minister has broken his promise, having sent its executive director a letter in April – just before the election – saying there were “no current plans to relax the Sunday trading laws”.

The letter said: “We believe that the current system provides a reasonable balance between those who wish to see more opportunity to shop in large stores on a Sunday and those who would like to see further restrictions.”

Despite this most large retailers welcomed the move as it would give businesses and customers greater freedom and flexibility.

Sebastian James, group chief executive at Dixons Carphone, said: “We live or die by whether we deliver for our customers, and if a community would like more time at the weekend to choose a new TV, phone, fridge or computer, then it will be good for our business to be allowed to offer that choice.

“We will need to see how communities respond to this ability and how other retailers react before we can work out our detailed plans, but on the whole, more flexibility for businesses and customers is a good thing.”

CEO of Hillview Garden Centres Ltd, Boyd J Douglas-Davies, supported the move as it would allow customers to shop at a time that suits their lifestyle.

He said: “At both ends of the day we have to deal with frustrated visitors at all of our centres. In the morning the ‘early-birds’ want to get on with the gardening and later in the day, visitors are forced to leave the centre at a time that feels like it is only mid-afternoon. Sunday is by far and away the busiest day of the week – this demonstrates that customers want to shop on Sundays.”

But James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, deemed the measure “unpopular and unnecessary”.

He said: “The government has turned its back on thousands of independent retailers, many of which will now be under threat of becoming unprofitable if changes to Sunday trading laws are made in their area. The consultation process for these reforms has been shambolic and opaque, consulting large retailers whilst ignoring the valid concerns of those hardest hit.

“The current Sunday trading rules are a popular compromise that provide a small but important advantage for small shops. We know from Sunday trading experiment during the Olympic Games that longer opening hours on a Sunday only results in trade being diverted from smaller stores to larger stores, with no overall benefit in sales to the UK economy.”

Lowman added that the association will campaign throughout the year to “fight this complicated and harmful plan”.

The consultation will be open until 16 September and is calling for feedback from businesses, shoppers and other interested groups.


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