From the blog

Are we set to see a change in Sunday trading rules?

BY PAUL CLEMENT

The government recently announced plans to relax Sunday trading regulations. After a short period of consultation, nurse it looks likely that a system that has been in place since 1994 is about to change, click subject to local councils’ agreement.

An Act of Parliament passed just over 20 years ago allows shops of over 3,000 square feet to open for up to 6 hours on a Sunday, as long as those hours were between 10am and 6pm and with the exception of Easter and Christmas Days.

Yet, there are notable exceptions. Small shops, farm shops, airport shops, petrol filling stations, railway stations are amongst those types of store that can open throughout Sundays

I am sympathetic to the ‘keep Sunday special’ campaigns, many of them arguing either for the status quo or even for a hardening of the current rules. Yet, there are sound reasons now for a change.

The Exchequer recently predicted that similarity between Sundays and other days would result in a £1.4 billion boost to the economy through increased spend on the high street. That is something that our town centres can ill-afford to ignore. Whilst we want our town centres to work, we have a choice – if the shop we need isn’t open at 5pm on a Sunday we will just purchase on the internet. The customer is ‘king’ and high streets need to win the customer back. Also the pattern of many people’s own working hours has changed in the last 20 years. Other retail-type employers like call centres, cinemas, restaurants and theatres now open on Sundays. So, the reality is that, for less and less people, Sunday is not always a day of rest and, if it is, it is more often a rostered day-off necessitating routine family tasks like shopping to be done at their convenience.

Whilst some may love to think that the rate of change across the world can be slowed, it is completely unrealistic. To expect the customer to continue to modify their behaviour around outdated rules is plain daft. In this fast-changing and competitive world, town centres need to be able to compete on an even playing field with other forms of retail, including on-line which never closes. That is why I find myself supporting the proposed changes.