Fears of a permanent relaxation of Sunday trading laws have escalated after communities minister Eric Pickles said he would be studying trading patterns to determine whether there was a case for abolishing regulation for large stores.
Sunday trading restrictions were relaxed from July 22 until September 9 to take advantage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. After this period, the restrictions will revert back to the current position. However, the minister stated during an interview with The Telegraph that he was “willing to look and see what the difference in trading patterns were” during the Games.
“I’m always keen that we respect peoples’ religious beliefs,” he added. “But I think we should kind of look long and hard at the results.”
There are concerns that the permanent relaxation may be put forward as part of an ‘economic regeneration’ Bill planned for the autumn.
When the temporary relaxation was first announced, the government pledged on several occasions that this was “not a test case for a permanent relaxation of the rules in the future”.
Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman urged the government not to introduce permanent relaxation. “Current Sunday Trading rules are the only competitive edge that local shops have over their much larger counterparts and removing that advantage could be disastrous for many convenience stores across the country,” he said. “We still hold to the reassurances from government that this temporary relaxation was not a Trojan horse for a permanent relaxation.
“The ACS is completely unconvinced of any benefit of permanently relaxing the Sunday trading laws and will be gathering information to examine trading patterns during the summer relaxation,” added Lowman. “The temporary change this summer has simply diverted trade from small to large stores.”
Sunder Sandher of Londis in Headington, Oxfordshire, has reported a drop in trade on Sundays since the relaxation started.
“The Waitrose, Co-op and Iceland near my Headington store are now opening longer hours on Sundays,” he said. “It used to be my best day of the week, but now the other stores are open, we’ve dropped 20% of our Sunday sales. The worry is that it continues after the Olympics.”