Yesterday saw – amidst what is best described as confusion – the Government enact a classic reverse ferret on plans to devolve the regulation of Sunday trading hours to Local Authorities, after members of the SNP joined Labour and some Tory dissenters in registering their opposition to the plans. It is deeply disappointing.
It is, in short, an utter nonsense that a consumer can browse Amazon from The Andrew Marr Show to Downton Abbey, but bricks and mortar shops can only be open for six hours on the same day.
If the Government is committed to ensuring a level playing field for physical retailers, it either needs to liberalise Sunday trading hours or ban the internet after 4pm on a Sunday – it strikes us that the former is a rather more sensible solution than the latter.
Britain’s high streets have had a tough time in recent years – not, of course, exclusively the result of online competition.
Too-high business rates and the “jobs tax” of employers’ National Insurance contributions haven’t helped. Giving those stores that can make longer Sunday trading hours work economically – and it’s worth noting that no shops that can’t make it work will open any longer than they do now – the freedom to do so would be a much-needed fillip.
London, already attractive, would become an even more appealing short break destination for wealthy travellers.
More than that, though, it is worth remembering that retail workers are among the lowest paid in the job market – hence the complaints from a number of high street retailers at the planned uptick in the minimum wage.
Giving shops the opportunity to open for a couple more hours would be more welcome than not among people for whom an extra £14.40 in their pocket makes a real difference.
And while you cannot doubt the passion of those who want to ‘Keep Sunday Special,’ they do rather ignore the fact that leisure activities have changed on Sundays – where was the Keep Sunday Special campaign when the Premier League started scheduling football fixtures on the ‘rest’ day?
Should we ban those, too, so people have even fewer opportunities to choose what to do with their time? What about stopping pubs serving roasts on a Sunday, so that barmen can spend more time at home and less time earning? Putting shops in a separate category is just ludicrous.
Most fundamental, though, is that this is a question of choice. Nobody is forcing a shop to open, forcing someone to work, forcing somebody to shop. Liberalising Sunday trading hours is a win-win.