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Would new Sunday trading rules destroy small shops?

Would new Sunday trading rules destroy small shops?
Enterprise Nation
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Posted: Thu 6th Aug 2015

A dramatic question we admit, but for one group that represents thousands of small shops, the answer is yes.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has launched the consultation on new proposals first announced in the Summer Budget that would allow local authorities to relax Sunday trading regulations in certain areas.

Current laws, introduced in 1994, prevent large stores from opening for more than six hours on a Sunday. Small shops covering less than 3,000 sq ft can open all day.

But ministers say that more than 20 years on retail has changed with offline businesses facing tough competition from online competitors. If local mayors and councils had the power to let more stores open longer on Sundays, the government believes local economies and communities would be boosted.

The consultation focuses on two proposals; giving local mayors and councils the power to relax laws in high street locations or in the whole area including out-of-town shopping centres.

In the government's press release announcing the consultation Dixons Carphone chief executive Sebestian James was fully behind the proposed changes. "We live or die by whether we deliver for our customers, and if a community would like more time at the weekend to choose a new TV, phone, fridge or computer, then it will be good for our business to be allowed to offer that choice," he said.

"We will need to see how communities respond to this ability and how other retailers react before we can work out our detailed plans, but, on the whole, more flexibility for businesses and customers is a good thing."

Boyd J Douglas-Davies, CEO of Hillview Garden Centres, is also a supporter.

"Our customers want to be able to shop on a Sunday at a time that suits them and their lifestyle," he said. "At both ends of the day we have to deal with frustrated visitors at all of our centres.

"In the morning the 'early-birds' want to get on with the gardening and later in the day, visitors are forced to leave the centre at a time that feels like it is only mid-afternoon. Sunday is by far and away the busiest day of the week. this demonstrates that customers want to shop on Sundays."

But in contrast, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has come out very firmly against the plans.

In a damning attack ACS chief executive James Lowman described the measure as "unpopular and unnecessary" saying it shows "the government has turned its back on thousands of independent retailers, many of which will now be under threat of becoming unprofitable".

He continued: "The consultation process for these reforms have been shambolic and opaque, consulting large retailers whilst ignoring the valid concerns of those hardest hit."

ACS also claimed figures used by the government to justify the proposed changes "don't add up". Here's the organisation's analysis:

  • Benefits equivalent to £1.4bn a year: Figures taken from a 2006 report, which include money saved by companies through the reduction in a 'Sunday premium' on wages

  • Spend increased 12.5% as a result of deregulation: Figures reference potential sales change in a country that has no Sunday opening moving to a fully deregulated system. Sales change in the UK is estimated to be 0.14%, but the authors of the report question whether this could be "simply a redirection [of trade] from other segments"

  • 15% of individuals would shop later on Sunday at a supermarket: Figures reference a 2005 ONS report, which also states that 77% do not plan to change their shopping habits

  • 450,000 foreign tourists stayed in London during the Games in 2012: No figures included on sales performance during this period. BRC/KPMG figures suggest sales fell 0.4%

"Not only is the consultation a mess, government itself is in chaos over these proposals", Lowman added. "We have been given no details about which Bill the plans are set to be taken forward in and whether they'll receive proper parliamentary scrutiny.

"It appears as though neither the Department for Business nor the Department for Communities and Local Government want it, and are playing hot potato with this controversial and unnecessary change to legislation."

Strong arguments on both sides. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 
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