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The Sunday Trading Stooshie

posted: 10 March, 2016

Life has changed enormously since Sunday trading laws in England and Wales were last revised in 1994. High-street retailers now vie with their round-the-clock online rivals, for whom national regulatory borders are largely irrelevant. With eCommerce continuing to exert pressure on ‘bricks-and-mortar’ retailers, why hamper their ability to compete?

Yet whilst times and attitudes have changed, Sunday trading laws have stayed the same. Currently shops sized over 280 m2 (3,000 ft2) can open for only six consecutive hours between 10:00 and 18:00, and retailers can be fined up to £50,000 if they break the rules.

Consumers want to be able to shop at a time that suits them and their lifestyle, and not to have their freedom of choice crimped. The decision to maintain or increase Sunday trading hours ought to be left to local councils who are democratically accountable to their local electorate. One size doesn’t fit all.

USDAW, the shop workers trade union, opposes longer opening hours on Sundays on the grounds that existing restrictions protect the interests of its membership. However, with online accounting for approaching 20% of total UK retail sales, and with one-third of current retail jobs predicted to disappear by 2025 (according to a recent report published by the British Retail Consortium), perhaps USDAW should rethink its position.

I guess we could have been saved from this debate if legislators had first visited Scotland – where there are no trading restrictions on Sundays – and where nobody seems to give a second’s thought to when shops open and close!