New West End Company boss Richard Dickinson says a small change to Sunday trading rules will make a big difference to London.

When the Chancellor revealed that Sunday trading regulation is to be devolved to elected mayors and councils there was a mix of cheers and groans.

Cheers came from those who believe that the compromise reached over 20 years ago, which allowed stores over 3,000 sq ft to open for six hours between 10am and 6pm on Sundays, was outdated.

The growth of internet shopping, unheard of when the Sunday Trading Act was introduced in 1994, has changed the way people shop. And the concerns expressed by opponents in 1994 have not materialised.

Groans came from those who oppose Sunday trading for social, religious or employment reasons.

But objections were also heard from some larger retailers who are not convinced that deregulation of Sunday trading across England would be a good thing financially. The additional costs of opening longer would, they fear, outweigh any extra income earned in those hours.

New regulations in practice

That is why it is important to understand what revising the Sunday trading regulations would mean in practice.

New West End Company, the Business Improvement District representing the 600 retailers of London’s West End, has been exploring what devolved Sunday trading might look like.

“Large benefits could be had to the economy and employment by making some small, marginal changes”

Richard Dickinson, New West End Company

Total deregulation is clearly not the answer. Although it is a neat philosophical case, in reality most retailers don’t want it and wouldn’t use it. Scotland has total deregulation and shops do not open all Sunday and not in all areas.

So New West End Company has been suggesting to the Government that large benefits could be had to the economy and employment by making some small, marginal changes that fit local areas.

We have proposed that those areas designated in Mayor Boris Johnson’s London Plan as International Shopping Centres (the West End and Knightsbridge) would benefit from just two or three extra hours at the end of the day.

This would put us in a better position compared with our big international competitors such as New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai and Paris. All of these open longer on a Sunday evening with the exception of Paris. But France has just introduced legislation that will allow large retailers in Paris’s tourist areas to open later on Sundays.

International tourists form around 25% of the visits made to the West End each year. Many of them are bemused that the West End suddenly closes at 6pm on Sundays, just when they want to shop. They simply take their money and spend it in other countries, especially if they are on short weekend breaks.

A small change

Our research shows that this small change, say two extra hours, in these core areas of London could generate a net increase of more than £260m a year and create more than 2,000 full-time jobs.

Clearly there will be other areas in England where these marginal changes would work well. But there will be many areas where they won’t. That’s why it’s smart of the Government to devolve powers to mayors and councils to decide what is best for their area, taking into account the views of local retailers, employees and communities.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for England. But by allowing marginal and targeted changes there are clear benefits for retailers to offset some of the increasing costs of trading on the high street; and benefits for young people looking to develop a career in a fast-moving and dynamic industry.

  • Richard Dickinson, chief executive, New West End Company