Mike Greene: Sunday Trading Rules are a Great British Compromise

Plans to reform Sunday trading will not address the problems of high streets and make the Government the enemy of entrepreneurial businesses.

The Government has finally set out its stall on Sunday trading, releasing its response to the consultation after months of waiting, alongside amendments to the Enterprise Bill designed to give powers to local authorities to set Sunday trading hours as they see fit.

You would expect the Government to have put together a comprehensive review of the responses, alongside a detailed impact assessment on both large and small businesses, given the amount of time it’s had to think about it. Unfortunately, that’s a world away from what we actually got. The Government has attempted to bypass a true debate by publishing a dismissive 12-page response that doesn’t even bother to justify the decision to press ahead. Even the Department for Business’s own press release on the issue was a shambles, featuring only one piece of research – a statistic about retail turnover in Sweden which is from 1972.

For a Government that talks about changing the law to meet the needs of modern consumers, including research that took place at the same time as the Watergate scandal and the formation of Abba is unacceptable.

The message that the Government is hiding is that of the more than 7,000 responses to the consultation, there were thousands of consumers, shopworkers and businesses presenting real concerns and real evidence for maintaining things as they are. When the Government is finally forced to publish all the responses received, I’m confident this will show that the majority opposed its plans.

The Sunday trading regulations are a popular British compromise that works for everyone, and it is a very small helping hand for small businesses trying to compete with huge superstores. There is no doubt that online sales have been growing, but the Government seems to believe that removing Sunday trading regulations will get everyone off their computers and back on to the high street. This is nonsense. The high street faces challenges including high business rates, inflated parking charges and bigger overheads for stores in physical locations than those trading online. Opening stores for a few hours longer on a Sunday solves none of those problems, and does nothing to change people’s shopping habits.

If the Government really wanted people to stop shopping online and go on to high streets, it would invest in making those locations better and cheaper places to visit and shop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon.

In the next couple of weeks, MPs will hopefully have a chance to debate this issue in Parliament and vote on whether it should go through.

The plans were dropped last time because the Government didn’t think it had enough support, and as it stands the opposition from all sides of the house is even stronger than before which is why it’s trying to sneak this through without proper scrutiny.

MPs will know that this is a vitally important issue for small businesses, shopworkers and families in constituencies across the UK and, given that it was not in the Conservative manifesto, that the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman told campaign groups that it was not on the agenda before the election, and that plans to remove Sunday trading regulations have been defeated every time they’ve been brought forward in the last 20 years, many will be sitting uncomfortably.

The Tories have a small majority as it is, with some only holding their constituencies by a few votes. By pushing through these changes, they will cement themselves as the anti-small business party, and could seal their fate with thousands of previously loyal voters.

This piece was written by My Local CEO Mike Greene, appearing in Retail Week on 17 February 2016. 

This entry was posted by Chris on Thu, 18/02/2016 - 10:11