Controversial Sunday trading plans to get six-week consultation

Government plans – unveiled in last month’s Budget – to deregulate Sunday trading are to be put to a six-week public consultation, it was announced today.

The Government’s consultation on reform of Sunday trading is available here. The consultation is open until September 16 and applies to England and Wales. All wholesalers are being encouraged to make their views known.

The plans, to give local authorities powers to allow larger shops to open longer on Sundays, have proved controversial, and have been slammed by trade bodies – including the Federation of Wholesale Distributors – religious groups, unions and small businesses. FWD maintains they will “reduce choice and diversity as smaller shops are forced out of business”.

The Federation represents the wholesalers who supply and support 72,000 small food and drink retailers – many of whom provide vital services on the doorstep of less mobile and less well-off people. These [small]outlets support communities in cities, towns and villages, giving local residents the option to shop when and where they need to, and buy fresh food every day.

For these shops, the advantage provided by the current Sunday trading laws is vital to help them provide their service to millions of people, not only on Sundays, but throughout the week. Allowing larger town centre or retail park stores to open longer will take business away from independent shops in residential and rural areas, which may mean they are forced to close.

FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “The Government claims that longer opening hours will increase consumer choice, but the opposite is true. Without the few extra hours of trading a week, smaller shops may not survive. That means many people will not have the choice to shop locally, they will not have the choice to walk to the shops rather than drive, they will not have the choice to support unique, independent businesses owned by and employing their neighbours, and they will not have the choice to ensure the money they spend stays within their community.”

There is little evidence to suggest that the public want Sunday to become the same as every other day, FWD maintains. Nor is there substantial evidence that the economy will benefit from longer opening hours. The result of the temporary relaxation in 2012 was that sales spread over the longer period rather than increasing.

Bielby added: “As there was no mention of Sunday trading in the Conservative Party’s pre-election manifesto, it is surprising that George Osborne has put this proposal forward so soon, with no evidence of its effectiveness, and with no apparent awareness of the devastating effect it could have on small, independent entrepreneurs. On behalf of our members and their customers, FWD will be encouraging the Government to keep Sunday special, and to keep our valuable independent shops special too.”

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