George Osborne is to allow shops to open longer on Sundays in plans to be unveiled in Wednesday’s budget, the first since the Conservatives returned to power unshackled by coalition. The Chancellor is to pass powers to local officials and mayors to decide whether to ease laws that prohibit large stores from opening more than six hours.
Research by the New West End Company suggests that longer opening hours in the capital would equate to nearly 3,000 extra jobs and an additional £200 million in annual sales. Likewise, the lobby group Open Sundays notes that relaxing the laws would inject an extra £20.3bn over 20 years to the British economy.
The Treasury is also armed with the experience of the London Olympics, a six-week hiatus in which longer trading hours proved both popular and profitable. The Lib Dems were opposed to a permanent relaxation of the regulations after the Olympics ended.
Osborne said: “Even two decades on from the introduction of the Sunday Trading Act, it is clear that there is still a growing appetite for shopping on a Sunday. There is some evidence that transactions for Sunday shopping are actually growing faster than those for Saturday.”
“The rise of online shopping, which people can do round the clock, also means more retailers want to be able to compete by opening for longer at the weekend,” he added. “But this won’t be right for every area, so I want to devolve the power to make this decision to mayors and local authorities.”
“This will be another part of my plan to ensure a truly national recovery, with our great towns and cities able to determine their own futures,” the chancellor concluded.
However the move was decried by the Association of Convenience Stores on Tuesday, which projected small shops will be pushed out of business. The organisation also highlighted a 0.4% falls in sales during the 2012 Games. In a poll conducted earlier this year, 76% of respondents said they were in favour of keeping the existing regulations, with 60% wanting fewer hours rather than more. There has been no official response yet from the Church of England.
Regardless, the Treasury sees the issue as one of international competition, with Paris and New York benefitting from no restrictions on trading. Osborne is to present the proposed reforms -- to be included in an Enterprise Bill in the autumn -- as part of a push to devolve more powers from Whitehall.