Shops: We have to get balance right

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph -
Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph -
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This week, the Government withdrew plans to include a provision in the Cities and Devolution Bill allowing local authorities like Peterborough City Council to increase local Sunday trading hours. The Leader of the City Council wrote about it in last week’s Peterborough Telegraph.

Many constituents had written to oppose the initiative.

To my mind, the proposals were inappropriate and unnecessary and there was no evidence that they would have generated more jobs and greater prosperity but they would definitely have had a downside: Further undermining Sunday as a day of rest and recuperation, family time, a special time for many faith communities, for sports and social pursuits and the potential for some workers to be coerced into working for fear of the sack, which is why I supported the Shopworkers’ Union Usdaw, in their campaign opposing the plans.

In addition, the economic power of the supermarkets would have been marshalled against hitherto popular smaller local convenience stores, the future of a number of which would inevitably be threatened.

It was clearly the right decision to pause and it would otherwise certainly have put me in a difficult position in potentially voting with other Conservative MPs to defeat the proposals when they came to be debated in the House of Commons next Tuesday, along with the Labour Party and the opportunistic Scottish Nationalists, for whom English trading hours should be of no concern other than to make mischief for a Conservative Government.

Ministers certainly pursued the policy for the right reasons: In an age where massively more business is done online and some town and city shopping centres are not attracting the footfall they once did - though Peterborough’s is thriving - they wanted to give the retail business one more arrow in its quiver.

Fair enough. There’s no doubt we do need to boost some struggling retail centres across the UK and we need to protect and enhance our neighbourhoods by supporting local traders - both big chain and independent niche shops - and I believe different legislation will in time come forward to do this, which I will strongly support.

We have to get the balance right between protecting jobs and future business prospects and undermining the fabric and social cohesion of our existing communities.

The Government has listened and learnt and it will be all the better for that.