I have spoken a great deal in Parliament and the media - including in the Huffington Post - about my opposition to the Government's plans to extend Sunday trading hours. This policy would undermine family life, place shopworkers under more pressure, and damage local shops. The current laws are an accepted compromise supported by two-thirds of the public, with the other third of people split between wanting more or less restriction on Sunday opening.
Here, I want to focus on Annabel Denham's blog arguing for more Sunday trading hours, and suggesting that small traders should welcome these proposals. Specifically, I want to focus on some of the data used in that blog, which in my view is simply not credible.
Annabel Denham states that during the 2012 Olympics, when Sunday trading laws were temporarily suspended, sales increased by 6.2% outside London and 2.8% inside London. According to the best information available, these figures are wrong. ONS data shows a decline in overall sales of 0.2% during this period, and the British Retail Consortium data, which is trusted by analysts and Government, showed a 0.4% decline on the previous year. So why the discrepancy? The figures being used by Annabel Denham were quoted by Philip Davies MP (who has unsuccessfully attempted to remove Sunday trading regulations on a number of occasions) in a Parliamentary debate, but, to my knowledge, they are not published anywhere. They appear to be based solely on large shopping centres, and we cannot interrogate this data to understand whether this is a year on year comparison, or month on month, and whether this measures like for like sales or includes new centres. I would rather trust the official statistics on this rather than unpublished data covering only one part of the retail market, and excluding most of the small businesses which Annabel Denham seeks to reassure.
This really matters, because the fundamental point about Sunday trading and the economy is that more hours do not equal more sales. All that happens when trading hours increase is that the sales get spread from smaller to larger stores, and across more hours. This is why many larger retailers are not supporting the Government's plans; they know that this would just bring more costs without bringing in enough sales to cover them. Of course this is also why small retailers and community stores are absolutely right to oppose these changes. For them, the repercussions would be far more serious than simply burdensome additional costs - it will be whether they can survive at all. A Sunday trading free for all would divert trade away from small stores and the communities they support, to larger competitors. Oxford Economics have calculated this would actually lead to a net loss of thousands of jobs in the small retail sector.
Annabel Denham's argument - and the Government's - that this is a localist agenda is utterly spurious. Even a most cursory glance at the proposals indicates that if one local authority extends these hours, neighbouring authorities will feel pressurised into following suit - hardly local decision-making at all.
Parliament should consider the true impacts of Sunday trading deregulation, and should examine the data being presented by all sides in this debate.