Plans to further relax Sunday trading laws will threaten the profitability of many small businesses, it is claimed today.
Local authorities are to be handed the power to divide their regions into zones and vary Sunday trading hours according to local priorities.
A consultation paper, published today by the Department for Business, says: “A local leader could choose to allow longer Sunday trading in those specific localities where they want to grow their economy or attract more shopper footfall in support of their economic development strategies.”
It goes on to specify that local leaders could “exclude out-of-town supermarkets if they wish”.
The consultation cites evidence suggesting extending Sunday trading hours across England and Wales might result in benefits equivalent to £1.4 billion a year, or £64 per household. It suggests that internet shopping has rendered the old laws out of date.
“This is generated from lower prices as a result of increased efficiency from shops being able to make more use of existing stores,” says the paper.
“Extending Sunday trading hours would improve productivity by freeing retailers to make better use of large stores allowing them to sell more without a proportionate increase in costs.”
But Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “By pressing on with this unpopular and unnecessary measure, the government has turned its back on thousands of independent retailers, many of which will now be under threat of becoming unprofitable if changes to Sunday trading laws are made in their area.
“The consultation process for these reforms have been shambolic and opaque, consulting large retailers whilst ignoring the valid concerns of those hardest hit.
“The government have not yet confirmed how the proposals will be introduced in Parliament and whether the House of Lords will be given the chance to review the proposals.”
He added: “The current Sunday trading rules are a popular compromise that provide a small but important advantage for small shops.
“We know from the Sunday trading experiment during the Olympic Games that longer opening hours on a Sunday only results in trade being diverted from smaller stores to larger stores, with no overall benefit in sales to the UK economy.
“We will continue to fight this complicated and harmful plan, and will campaign throughout the year to ensure that our existing Sunday Trading rules are retained.”
Current rules allow stores over 3,000 sq ft to open for a maximum of six hours between the hours of 10am and 6pm on Sundays.
Communities minister Brandon Lewis said: “We want to give local leaders the power to decide whether Sunday trading is right for their area, and to give their retailers the option to stay open for longer.
“We have already taken a range of measures to boost the Great British high street and now we are giving local areas another tool to encourage shoppers to the town centre.”
An Office for National Statistics survey found that 15% of people would shop later on a Sunday at a supermarket. This represents about 6.1 million adults, The Times reported.
Paris has recently extended its Sunday trading hours in areas of international tourism. Dubai and New York shops stay open into the evening seven days a week.
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