Row brewing over proposed Sunday trading changes

Earlier this year MPs voted in favour of reducing the current Sunday trading restrictions on large stores (which are allowed to open for a maximum of six hours on Sundays) as a way of boosting the economy for seven weeks until after the Paralympics. But now the government has admitted it will “consider” just how successful the temporary relaxation has been – a move seen by many as a breach of trust and a way of allowing unregulated Sunday trading in “through the back door”.

Earlier this year MPs voted in favour of reducing the current Sunday trading restrictions on large stores (which are allowed to open for a maximum of six hours on Sundays) as a way of boosting the economy for seven weeks until after the Paralympics. But now the government has admitted it will “consider” just how successful the temporary relaxation has been – a move seen by many as a breach of trust and a way of allowing unregulated Sunday trading in “through the back door”.

Conservative MP for The Wrekin, Mark Pritchard, said: “The Government should deliver on its promise, and they said this would be a temporary move only. There is also a fairness point – and that is fairness for shopworkers who deserve to have some downtime, time with their families perhaps playing sports, perhaps even going to church.”

Since 1992, stores larger than 280sqm (3,000sq ft) can only open for six hours on Sundays at any time between 10am and 6pm. Companies flouting the rules could face a £50,000 fine. But for seven Sundays up until 9 September, those shops can – in theory –  trade 24/7.

The effects of unregulated Sunday trading have already been felt in Norfolk. The Chapelfield Shopping Centre in Norwich has been open weekday hours over the past five weeks. Sales at the nearby Stalham Shopper c-store have been down 20% on the past three Sundays.

“We rely very much on our sales on Sunday,” said owner Nigel Dowdney.”We open longer hours than Tesco do and it’s a very important part of our earnings. Across my two stores I employ 42 people so that’s 42 jobs that could be at risk.”

Despite support for the idea from the Institute of Directors, various Chambers of Commerce and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, large sections of the retail and wholesale trade, as well as MPs, the church and the unions, are all opposed to any changes to the law as it stands. Even Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, thought any change would be detrimental.

“Maintaining Sunday’s special status has great merit for our customers and our colleagues, and relaxing Sunday Trading laws is certainly not a magic answer to economic regeneration,” King told The Daily Telegraph earlier this week.

And a poll of Londoners, published today by the Evening Standard newspaper, showed the populace of the capital slightly in favour of “keeping Sunday special” – with 41% in favour of a change in the law and 44% against. Ipsos Mori, which conducted the poll, said that nationally, 52% were against any change in the law with just 36% for.

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