In the Budget, the Government announced that it would be consulting on proposals to devolve powers on Sunday trading rules to a local level. Last week, Ministers launched a consultation process seeking views on the options for devolving these rules. This consultation presents an opportunity to get the views of our local community on Sunday opening hours.
The Government argues that current Sunday trading rules were established over 20 years ago, but that the consumer environment has changed enormously since then and high street shops are facing growing competition from the rise of online and mobile phone shopping. Internet sales now account for 11.5 per cent of all retail sales and have more than quadrupled since 2006. The current rules have allegedly not kept pace with these changes and stifle business’ efficiency and competitiveness, reducing consumer choice and also limiting the ability of our major cities to compete for international tourism.
Local high streets do need to adapt and change in order to thrive in an internet age and this Government has a wide package of policies to support high streets – from cuts in business rates for small shops to stopping over-zealous parking restrictions practices.
Local decision-makers, for example, local councils like Peterborough City Council, are accountable to their local communities and understand the wishes of their citizens and the needs of local businesses. Devolving this power to local areas means that they can ensure that the rules reflect local preferences, shopping habits and economic conditions and will give them greater flexibility to make decisions for themselves. This means that local areas would have the discretion to zone which part of their local authority area would benefit from the longer hours, for example, allowing them to boost high streets. Extended hours may not be right for all communities and local decision makers are best placed to judge this.
There will, I’m pleased to note, be no changes to Sunday trading law in relation to Easter Sunday or Christmas Day.
All well and good in theory. I’m not wholly convinced that changing Sunday trading hours will necessarily drive up economic growth. In the spirit of full transparency, my own (current) views are pretty straightforward: I oppose any change in Sunday trading laws – to safeguard the family life and work/life balance of shop workers AND consumers on a traditional day of rest, to protect smaller convenience stores from supermarket domination, because there is no evidence that increased retail activity has a long term positive economic impact on a locality and because I believe that we have adequate trading hours already in the UK.
I might be wrong of course. What do you think? I would value your feedback.
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