The big retailers are making another of their periodic attempts to abolish Sunday Trading restrictions. But why? According to the Daily Mail, Philip Davies MP, the vice-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Retail Group, supported by Asda, Morrisons and Selfridges, intends to table a series of amendments to the Deregulation Bill currently going through Parliament. Under the Sunday Trading Act 1994, shops of over 300,000 sq. ft. can only open for a maximum of six hours on Sunday, and not before 10am. New proposals include abolishing restrictions altogether; giving local authorities power to decide; and allowing large garden centres to open for eight hours on Sunday.
What is this obsession with de-regulating Sunday Trading? The last attempt was back in July 2011 when Mark Menzies MP tabled a Ten Minute Rule Bill which aimed to allow temporary relaxations of Sunday trading regulations for the duration of the Olympic Games. The justification was that it would accommodate the demand from thousands of visiting tourists. The inconvenience to thousands of shop workers was, it seems, of no consequence!
Many commentators saw the amendment as the thin end of a wedge which would eventually tear the Sunday Trading Act asunder. Some retailers weren’t too keen either, and believed that relaxation of the rules would merely spread existing trade thinner while increasing operational costs. Apparently, Davies believes the rise in online shopping me
ans the time is now right to change the law. The argument that longer hours will enable retailers to compete with the internet’s 24-hour presence has been wheeled out before. I don’t follow the logic. Surely the idea of internet shopping sites – mostly run by retailers anyway – is to trade while shops are shut? Staying open 24/7 to compete with your own website seems counter intuitive and pointless. Wouldn’t it just increase overheads for retailers already struggling for meagre returns?
So, if longer hours are a mixed blessing for retailers, does the public have a thirst for change? Not on the evidence of the long forgotten Red Tape Challenge, which asked the electorate to answer the question, ‘should they (the regulations) be scrapped altogether?’ Of the 2,695 comments logged, the overwhelming majority seemed to be against! Hardly a ringing endorsement then!