Anti-Sunday trading group ups campaign as consultation response is published

Plans to devolve Sunday trading regulations to local authorities have been condemned by the Association of Convenience Stores as damaging to high streets.

HW reported that Sunday trading hours extensions are set to go through Parliament as an amendment to the Enterprise Bill, and public affairs specialist Mark Glover said at last week's Garden Retail Summit how garden centres should write to their MPs if they want to ensure extra trading.

But Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: "Changing Sunday trading regulations will not help the high street; it would actually damage small high street stores as trade would get diverted to large out of town supermarkets. 

"While ministers talk of increasing high street sales, the reality is that the public won’t have more money to spend just because the shops are open longer. People will simply spend the same amount of money over a longer period of time, increasing the cost base for many larger stores.

"Extending Sunday trading hours will not affect high street competitiveness with online shopping. A poll of 2,000 people conducted by Populus in January 2016 showed that of those who prefer to shop online instead of on the high street, not a single one cited Sunday trading legislation as their reason for doing so.

"The reasons given ranged from online shopping being more convenient, cheaper and easier than shopping on the high street but opening hours were not a factor. Additionally, of the companies that reported their trading updates post-Christmas, not a single one cited Sunday trading regulations as a factor that affected their sales.

"More than two-thirds of the general public support the current Sunday trading laws.  We cannot allow this unpopular, unnecessary and damaging legislation to be forced through Parliament when it did not feature in the Conservative manifesto, and when there is such strong opposition from within all parties at Westminster and from a broad coalition of shop workers, small shops, family groups and churches."

ACS is part of the campaign group Keep Sunday Special.

The Government has received 7,000 responses to a consultation on the issue, with the consultation outcome published at

The report stated: "The majority of responses from local authorities, large and medium sized business respondents, and business representative organisations were in favour of the proposal to devolve decision making on extending Sunday trading rules to a local level. Of this group, 76 per cent felt that the powers should be devolved to local authorities. This included over 60 respondents from local authorities and local government organisations.

"However, trade unions, religious bodies and a number of small businesses and individuals who responded were against the proposals. A significant number of the individual respondents flagged concerns about the extension of Sunday trading hours itself as opposed to commenting specifically on devolution. This underlines that local decisions to extend Sunday trading hours must be taken sensitively, informed by the views of local communities."

The HTA reported to the consultation that it estimated that exempting garden centres from the Sunday Trading Act 1994 would add £75 million in lost sales to the economy. Also, research carried out on behalf of the New West End Company estimated that the net additional sales from a two hour extension to Sunday trading by retailers in the West End and Knightsbridge, the two key London shopping locations for international visitors, would be between £190 million and £290 million annually with between 1,070 and 2,160 full time equivalent jobs being created. A poll of their employees during the Olympics showed that 50 per cent appreciated the opportunity to work extra hours and 45 per cent did not.

The Government concluded in the consultation report: "The Government’s proposed reforms have prompted a strong and diverse response which confirms our view that decisions on extending Sunday trading hours are best made at a local level so that local needs and wishes can be fully assessed and taken into account." It ruled out Easter Sunday and Christmas Day opening.

Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive James Bielby said: "The Government’s analysis ignores the voices of the majority of the 7,000 respondents – many of them small businesses which will lose trade as a result of the chances – are not adequately represented. Instead, the Government has drawn its conclusions from a minority of responses from local authorities and large retailers, the groups who stand to gain most from devolution. The broad and deep coalition against any change have been airbrushed from the consultation response.

"The Department for Business cites evidence from Sweden, where deregulation has seen a five per cent increase in turnover. However, Sunday trading was liberalised in Sweden in 1972. This is desperate stuff, and shows that Ministers are forging ahead using risible evidence to support their case."With our partners in the Keep Sunday Special coalition, we will be putting pressure on MPs to stand up for the smaller stores in the constituencies, and all those whose wishes have been swept aside in this unbalanced response, and reject the amendment when it is tabled."

Business minister Sajid Javid told Parliament last week: "If the people of Bromsgrove or Barking say they want to see longer Sunday opening hours, who are we to stand in their way."

He said it will be up to councils to decide to extend and degregulate.

The new powers to devolve Sunday trading laws to local authorities will allow councils to "zone" any relaxation.

The measures also include greater freedoms for shop workers in England, Scotland and Wales to "opt-out" of working Sundays if they choose to, for example because they object on religious grounds or for family reasons.

Shop workers will now be able to give one month’s notice to large shops that they no longer want to work Sundays, down from the previous three months, and will have a new right to opt-out of working additional hours. The government will also strengthen the duty on employers to notify employees of their rights about working on Sundays.

Javid added: "We are a one nation government and we want to see the benefits of economic growth being felt in every corner of the country. These new powers are about giving local areas the choice to extend Sunday trading hours to meet the needs of their local businesses and communities. It is local people who will make the decision. Extending Sunday trading hours has the potential to help businesses and high streets across the UK better compete as our shopping habits change. The rights of shop workers are key to making these changes work in everyone’s interests. We are protecting those who do not wish to work Sundays, and those who do not want to work more than their normal Sunday working hours.

"The rise of online shopping has changed buying habits considerably, giving us the freedom to buy what we want, when we want. Online businesses have been able to adapt and thrive in this new world, accounting for 12.8 per cent of all retail spending in December 2015, up from just 2.4 per cent in 2006. However, the rules on Sunday trading for our high street stores and bigger outlets have not changed for over 20 years, meaning they cannot compete with this new online competition."

In November, Prime Minister David Cameron pulled plans for a Commons vote to relax Sunday trading laws in the face of a rebellion by 20 of his own Conservative MPs.

The Prime Minister had planned to force a vote on allowing councils to extend Sunday opening hours in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill.

MPs from the Conservative, Labour, SNP and DUP parties were planning to vote down the measure, which only affects shops in England and Wales. 

The Government said then it would bring back the Bill in the Enterprise Bill at a later date, as predicted in HW last month.

HTA chief executive Carol Paris said "This is a question of choice – both for retailers and consumers. We have worked hard to ensure that the voice of the industry is heard and it is reassuring that the points that we, and individual members have made, have been included in the consultation response. It is encouraging that progress is being made towards updating this law which is no longer fit for purpose."

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