The regulation of Sunday trading hours divides retail employers and has been the subject of many debates over the last four decades.
We are all aware that the regulation of Sunday trading hours divides retail employers and has been the subject of many debates over the last four decades.
But even the most ardent deregulators must be wondering if the Chancellor’s proposed devolution of powers to vary opening times down to local authorities and elected mayors is the best way forward.
To have the potential of hundreds of different regulatory regimes across England and Wales seems to me to be a recipe for chaos in the retail sector. We could have the absurd situation of stores on opposite sides of a road governed by different rules on opening hours. That is hardly ‘cutting red tape’, a stated aim of the Government.
The Sunday Trading Act is a great British compromise, which has worked well for over 20 years and gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday remains a special day and shopworkers can spend some time with their family.
Since 2010 the Government twice consulted on extending Sunday trading and twice decided not to proceed because of the overwhelmingly negative response from retailers, customers and shopworkers.
“Any proposal to extend Sunday trading hours misunderstands the retail sector”
Even the Government’s ‘retail sector champion’ Kevin Hawkins, a former director-general of the British Retail Consortium, said after the Red Tape Challenge report that supermarkets “have all lived with it [restricted Sunday opening] very well. What we have got is a workable compromise. Most people seem to be satisfied with it most of the time.”
Any proposal to extend Sunday trading hours misunderstands the retail sector. The last thing that retailers need is a race to open 24 hours a day, seven days week, resulting in a big increase in overheads and no increase in revenue through the tills.
The trial of unregulated Sunday trading hours during the London Olympics proved to be an almighty flop. An Usdaw survey showed that 95% of stores had no increase in customer numbers, with two-thirds being quieter or almost empty during the extended hours. More than half of staff came under pressure to work longer to cover the additional opening, with only one quarter of stores relying solely on volunteers.
Longer Sunday opening will have a dramatic effect on small retailers, shopworkers and wider society, and Usdaw is urging the Government to rethink this ill-conceived change to a long-established agreement on trading hours.
- John Hannett, general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers