Retail employees will see changes to their weekend working hours under plans to relax restrictions around Sunday trading to be unveiled in the Budget.
While current laws allow small shops to open all day on Sunday, those over 280 square metres can only trade for six hours.
But the Chancellor, George Osborne, will announce on Wednesday that mayors and local government will decide how long shops can stay open, bringing an end to the blanket six-hour rule in England and Wales that began in 1994. The rule was relaxed in 2012 for six weeks during the Olympic and Paralympic games.
Sunday trading resources
The Budget is expected to include the launch of a consultation on devolving power over Sunday trading laws to elected mayors and local councils.
Osborne has said that there is a growing appetite for shopping on a Sunday. “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. 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,” he commented.
Research by the New West End Company – which represents retail businesses employing around 100,000 staff around London’s Oxford Street – has suggested that just two additional hours of Sunday trading could generate nearly 3,000 jobs in the capital alone.
But national retail chains could face a complex arrangement where individual branches are dictated by separate Sunday trading regulations.
The last thing that retailers need is a race to open 24 hours a day, seven days week, resulting in a big increase in overheads and no increase in revenue through the tills” – John Hannett, Usdaw
James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “Giving local authorities the responsibility for setting Sunday trading hours will lead to inconsistency and confusion for businesses and shoppers.
“In areas where large stores’ trading hours are extended, we will simply see the same amount of trade spread over more hours and shifting from small stores to large stores, as was the case when the laws were suspended for the 2012 London Olympics, when overall retail sales actually fell.
“Existing Sunday trading laws are a popular compromise that balance the needs of consumers, shopworkers, small stores and families.”
Shop and betting workers currently have the right to opt out of Sunday working by giving three months’ notice to their employer, unless they were hired to work only on Sundays.
John Hannett, general secretary of retail union Usdaw, said that two recent consultations drew an “overwhelmingly negative” response from retailers, customers and shop workers. And he described the trial of extended Sunday trading hours during the Olympics to be “an almighty flop”.
“Any proposal to extend Sunday trading hours misunderstands the retail sector,” he said. “The last thing that retailers need is a race to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, resulting in a big increase in overheads and no increase in revenue through the tills.
“We will vigorously campaign against such a proposal and we would be looking for the Government to learn from their two consultations and failed trial period by leaving alone the existing Sunday trading arrangements agreed by the main stakeholders in the retail industry.”