Open All Hours 2

By Steve Renshaw

Hot on the heels of my recent blog “Open All Hours” detailing the announcement of potential changes to Sunday trading rules from the Chancellor’s Summer Budget, the Government published a consultation document outlining options for the potential changes on 5 August 2015

The consultation document sets out the Government’s reasoning for extending Sunday trading hours which relates principally to help level the playing field between online and ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers by giving consumers a greater choice of when they can shop in physical stores. This is an area where the internet has an obvious advantage at present with no restrictions on when goods can be purchased online or indeed when they can be delivered to consumers. The Government considers that the potential extension of trading hours will benefit high street retailers by allowing them to sell more without proportionately increasing costs.

A further cited benefit of extending trading hours would also be to boost the international competitiveness of UK shopping destinations that attract large numbers of foreign tourists. The consultation document identifies that New York, Paris and Dubai currently allow later shopping seven days a week. The benefits of extended Sunday trading in this respect would only really apply to the most upmarket destinations which Venuesore identify are almost exclusively located in London. 16 of the top 20 upmarket destinations are situated in the capital with only designer outlets in Bicester (3), York (14), Gloucester (16) and Swindon (17) making up the remainder of the top 20 and of which only Bicester has a significant international draw.

One of the potential benefits of longer trading hours on Sundays that the document doesn’t identify however is the ability to distribute trade more evenly throughout the day. Some of the most popular stores and shopping destinations are equally or almost as busy on Sunday as they are on Saturday but due to current restrictions, this trade is condensed into a shorter period. This can mean stores are busier and traffic movements are concentrated into more notable peaks. Allowing longer trading hours would allow the number of shoppers to be spread over a longer period improving shopper experience and reducing congestion.

The consultation document does recognise that Sundays are considered special due to religious significance and this forms part of the justification to devolve responsibility for Sunday trading rules to localities to ensure the balance between protecting Sunday’s special status and boosting local economies is made. It is clear from the tone of the document and the level of detail provided, outlining the Government’s view regarding the benefits of extending trading hours, that they consider longer Sunday trading hours would be positive in most instances.

As part of the consultation the Government is seeking responses to the following questions:

1. Should local areas have the power to extend trading hours on Sunday?

2. If the power is devolved, who do you think should be given the power to change Sunday trading rules?

3. How would you be impacted by local changes to Sunday trading rules?

In relation to question 2, the document sets out two options for the devolution of responsibility for the Sunday trading rules: devolution to existing lower tier Local Authorities (District and Unitary Authorities); or, devolution to local mayors and their equivalents as part of wider devolution packages such as that announced for Greater Manchester.

In my view there are further questions that could have helpfully been included within the consultation document such as whether Sunday trading hours should be extended but on a nationwide basis (i.e. the responsibility not devolved); whether it should be possible for areas to reduce current trading hours on Sundays; and, whether the ability to extend trading hours, if devolved, can be applied selectively within a local authority or if they should apply uniformly across the area. For example, if authorities are given the option to selectively vary trading hours, this could be used only to apply to certain larger town centres.

Overall, I think the potential ability to make these changes are positive. Whilst there are downsides which are outlined in my previous blog, since the current Sunday trading laws were introduced in 1994 there have been significant changes in the shopping environment and the way people live. As a result, Sunday’s importance as a special day has declined and its popularity as a shopping and leisure day has increased. Providing local areas with the potential to decide their Sunday trading hours for themselves will allow these changes to be taken account of alongside any relevant local factors.

Responses to the consultation are sought by 16 September 2015.


Published: 13/08/2015

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