15.08.09 - Sunday Trading
Summary: Current laws allow smaller shops to open all day, but restrict those over 3,000 sq ft to six hours.

It seems hard to imagine now but as recent as 30 years ago the high street stood resolutely silent for one day a week. Considered a day of rest, at least partly down to its religious connotations, homes up and down the county would come together and shops did not open. But the modern world, with its 24 hours news and it's world wide web, has intruded on our traditional Sundays. It is now 21 years since trading on this day was legalised, albeit with limits. Current laws allow smaller shops to open all day, but restrict those over 3,000 sq ft to six hours.

Now, pressure is on the once thriving high street as its competes with the age of 24/7 internet shopping and large all encompassing supermarkets and shops are closing at a rate of knots. In an effort to counteract this, the government is proposing to extend shopping hours and devolve powers to local councils to decide how it should operate on a local level. The consultation even raises the possibility of limiting or extending hours to specific areas to help struggling economies such as the high street. But will this help retailers, their staff or customers and what are the consequences if Sunday becomes just like any other day?

Opinion seems divided with it welcomed in some quarters, particularly political, as an economic boost, but doubts among some as to whether the changes could help or hinder. Fareham Borough Council leader Seán Woodward was in no doubt of the scheme’s benefits, particularly for control to be handed down to a local level. “It’s a very good idea,” he said. “It should be down to local elected people to make decisions on things like that not faceless bureaucrats in Whitehall. I’m all for choice and free enterprise.”

He added that when the Sunday laws were relaxed sales in Fareham shopping centre rose. Cllr Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council, said: “While I am a fairly regular churchgoer and I do like Sundays to be special that is my choice - I equally recognise many people find being able to shop on Sundays very convenient and helpful - so I am personally open to allowing shops to trade at times convenient to their customers.”

The move It was also welcomed by Stewart Dunn, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, who said it would help shops compete with the threat of online buying. He pointed to the knock-on benefits for restaurants and coffee shops and said the effect of the Southampton’s WestQuay Shopping Centre staying open would be a “ripple effect” out to independent shops around the city. He said he had sympathy for those that wanted to keep Sunday a special day, but said in today’s world where there was so much more flexible working and Sunday shopping was part of the evolving world that people needed to adapt to.

“If the high street is going to compete it needs to give customers a service that they can buy goods at hours that suit them." “It’s up against 24 hour shopping -– the unique experience of shopping is you can touch it, see it, try it on.” However, the scheme has been met with concern from others in other quarters. David Webb, chairman of the south central Hampshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, representing 6,500 small businesses in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, said he was not convinced that the move it was the solution for the ailing high street and other measures such as addressing business rates would be more helpful. He said small shops would feel the pressure to stay open later to stay competitive if their counterparts were, which would meaning paying their staff to work for longer, increasing overheads.

Union Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers), whose members largely work in retail, is opposed. General secretary John Hannett said devolving such powers would: “create chaos in the retail sector, tying up business in red tape as they try to operate under different regulatory regimes in every area of the country”. He said under the current laws Sunday remained a special day for shopworkers to spend with their family and that it was a myth that shops opening longer meant customers spent more and that the truth was it increased overheads and could cost jobs as retailers try to recover losses.

A spokesman for campaign Keep Sunday Special, made up of faith groups, retailers and unions, said that there was concern not just because of the religious principle of the Sunday rest, but also for the effect on family and community life with those who work on Sundays not able to make up the time spent away from their children. He said there would be a knock-on effect on others services and residents would lose the day of rest that differentiates between the week and weekend. And he raised concern about the effect on smaller shops displacing their trade to larger shops, describing it as the “final nail in the coffin”. With this proposal in its infancy it appears there are still many questions to be answered on how it will work on the ground and much debate as to who it will benefit.

Read the original news story here:
Should Sunday trading be reformed?

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