Sunday trading laws could be extended to boost economy post-lockdown

11 June 2020, 08:17 AM
  • A cross-party group of 40 MPs backs the plan to loosen the restrictions for a year
Sunday trading laws could be extended to boost economy post-lockdown

Supermarkets could soon extend their opening hours on Sunday as the Government considers relaxing the Sunday Trading laws.

Current rules allow supermarkets to trade for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm in England and Wales. However, it was recently revealed that these restrictions could be eased as the Government looks to suspend the law for a year.

It’s part of efforts to stimulate the UK economy amidst the coronavirus crisis, and would coincide with a larger bailout that’s hoped will provide a much-needed boost to the hospitality and retail sectors as lockdown slowly lifts.

Under the new legislation, larger supermarkets would be able to open for more than six hours on Sundays, whilst cafes and pubs could be given fast-track approval to serve food and drinks outside, which would omit the need for a 28-day minimum statutory consultation period.

If agreed on, the new Sunday trading measures could come into effect as soon as restrictions end. It has also been said that councils will be encouraged to pedestrianise more streets to allow for outdoor markets that would allow businesses to adhere and adapt to social distancing measures.

Most larger supermarkets support the proposed plans, and a recent YouGov snap poll revealed that the public is also largely in favour of temporarily loosening the laws. A total of 48% of those surveyed said they would “support removing the limit on how long shops in England and Wales can open for on Sundays”.

However, others are against the reforms, arguing that it would do little to boost the economy, and would instead cause disruption to low-paid retail workers who have been on the frontline during lockdown. It’s also said that deregulating trading hours would increase overheads whilst doing little to increase customer spend, and would put more pressure on shop staff to work longer hours.

James Lowman, the chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said longer Sunday trading could also negatively impact small shops and undermine efforts to keep staff safe during the pandemic: “The majority of the public are in favour of the existing Sunday trading regulations, which strike the right balance between the needs of shop workers, consumers, high streets, small shops and supermarkets,” he said.

“Changing the current laws would serve only to displace trade from the local shops that have been keeping communities going during this pandemic. If anything, local shops and other retailers have been reducing the number of opening hours in their business to keep their staff safe whilst restocking and cleaning stores, and we expect non-essential retailers to operate with limited hours when they reopen later this month.

“There are many measures that have been recommended through high street reviews and task forces in recent years that could support the recovery of high street businesses, but at no point has a change to Sunday trading regulations been considered, and with good reason. To upset the balance that has been struck on opening hours on Sundays would put small shops at risk, with increased costs but no guaranteed benefits for their larger counterparts.”

It’s not the first time the Sunday trading laws have been addressed: in 2016, former prime minister David Cameron also tried to relax the rules, but he faced defeat from opposition parties. But the current economic situation has given ministers new cause to make the changes.

A cross-party group of 40 MPs is pushing the Government to make the changes, hoping it will better position high streets as they adapt to a post-pandemic economy. The measures are said to be supported by Boris Johnson, his chief advisor Dominic Cummings, chancellor Rishi Sunak and business secretary Alok Sharma.

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