The Olympic Games were due to be a highly profitable time for Britain. With shops opening for longer hours, an influx of visitors to the country and a distraction from the financial doom and gloom of the last several years, retail commercial properties expected to earn more revenue for the month when Britain was thrust firmly into the international spotlight.
Unfortunately, so far, the Games have not proven to have a significant impact on the retailers of this country – if anything, profits for many major chains fell during late July and early August. However, one aspect of the sporting event did seem to be highly successful, and that was the extended opening hours for large shops on Sundays.
Now, a survey by YouGov indicates that almost half of the UK population believes that the laws on Sunday trading should be reviewed, with supermarkets being allowed to open for longer on the traditional day of rest. 45 per cent of the 2,045 people who participated in the online poll said they would support the Government in extending Sunday opening hours. 24 per cent went as far as to say they believed that this move would go far in improving the economic situation in the country at the moment.
Additionally, of the 45 per cent supporting the move, 83 per cent of these people said that there should be no restrictions whatsoever on Sunday trading, thus allowing retailers the freedom to choose their own opening hours 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Currently, in England and Wales, shops over 280 square metres are only allowed to open for a maximum of six hours between 10am and 6pm on Sundays. Yet in Scotland, no such regulations are in place, meaning that large supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda are not forced to close at any point by the Scottish Government.
Sunday Trading Laws were relaxed for six weeks during the Olympics and Paralympics to take advantage of foreign visitors to the UK. However, according to the poll, only 24 per cent of shoppers had taken advantage of the longer trading hours despite 82 per cent of those polled being aware of the temporary lifting of the law.
Business law firm DWF were involved in the survey, and released the results earlier this week. Head of retail at DWF, Hilary Ross, said; “Given the need to stimulate the economy, the commitment to cutting red tape and strong employee protection laws coupled with the Scottish experience, it is difficult to see the justification for continuing to regulate Sunday trading in the current way.”
Ms Ross was keen to point out that the laws were originally implemented in the early 1990s, following concerns being raised about the interests of employees and the traditional character of Sundays.
However, with Britain now one of the world’s foremost multicultural societies, Ms Ross believes that the benefits would far outweigh the negative impacts of relaxing Sunday Trading Laws and allowing retailers to choose their own opening hours.
He continued: “The Auld Committee concluded that the benefits of deregulation, particularly in terms of providing retailer flexibility and customer convenience, would outweigh any adverse effects.”
Yet should Sunday Trading Laws be reviewed and perhaps dropped altogether, the impact upon retail commercial properties measuring less than 280 square metres could well be devastating. Small stores are currently allowed to trade on Sunday, thus taking advantage of the one time in the week supermarkets are restricted in drawing in consumers. If facing week round competition from large chains, some may well struggle to remain afloat.
Unfortunately, it seems that a large percentage of the British public would back the move to extend Sunday trading hours, despite the effect on small stores. 39 per cent of participants believe that the Government will, eventually, relax Sunday Trading Laws, thus giving large chains a free rein to open longer hours. Should this happen on a permanent basis, 22 per cent have admitted that they would shop more on a Sunday.
Only 16 per cent believed that Sunday should revert back to being a “day of rest”, meaning that shops would not be allowed to trade at all on that day each week.
Ms Ross concludes; “Our research provides a call to action for the Government.
“Many consumers clearly think the laws on Sunday trading in England and Wales are in need of modernisation to meet the needs of a modern multicultural society and the changing face of retail.”
Sunday Trading Laws have been an integral part of British retailing for almost two decades now, and many will struggle to accept such a radical change in the law. However, it is important to remember that longer hours will mean large retail commercial property chains will have to take on more employees to cover the deficit. With the unemployment crisis failing to resolve itself and seemingly no answers as to how to create work for young people, can Britain really afford to keep the Sunday Trading Laws?
Do you think that a permanent change in Sunday Trading Laws would prove to be a sound economic move for England and Wales, thus allowing the country to recover and finally pull itself out of the recession? Or do you believe that the traditional approach, where Sunday is a day for relaxing with the family, should still remain in place?
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