Today, MPs have an important chance to shape the future of our high streets. In the first major opportunity of its kind since 1994, the House of Commons will vote on Sunday trading reform, which could ultimately extend Sunday opening hours and allow consumers more time to shop.
High streets all over the country are tackling the threat of online competition, but there isn’t a level playing field. While online retailers are free from some of the challenges facing traditional “bricks and mortar” stores, such as restricted trading hours and sky high business rates, the ability of the British high street to thrive is constrained by laws that pre-date e-commerce.
We therefore need to take measures to protect our retail heritage – and iconic British high streets – by giving them the best possible chance to remain competitive.
There has been much speculation in recent days over the level of opposition to the proposed changes. But as we near the conclusion of the debate, we implore politicians to revisit the facts.
New West End Company has presented hard evidence of both the economic and employment benefits that an extra two hours of Sunday trading in the West End would bring, as well as the support of shop workers for such a change.
In his 2015 Budget, chancellor George Osborne cited New West End Company research which showed that, in the West End and Knightsbridge alone, two more hours of trading on Sundays would result in an additional £260m in revenue each year and create 2,000 new full time equivalent retail jobs.
Further research, commissioned by New West End Company and conducted by ComRes, also challenged the argument that shop workers are not in favour of extended trading hours. Instead, it showed that three quarters of London retail workers feel that the capital needs more flexibility on Sunday trading in order to compete with online retailers.
Beyond any economic reasoning, in an increasingly on-demand world, we need to make stores open and available to visitors when they want to shop, and Sunday is now one of the busiest trading days for retailers.
International shoppers expect the same service they can get at home, and many global destinations – such as Hong Kong and New York – have far fewer restrictions on Sunday trading hours in place, if any at all. For our capital to thrive and maintain its position as the best retail destination in the world, we need to move with the times and vote for change today.
This is not a London-centric issue alone, and the government has rightly recognised this by devolving the relevant powers to local authorities, therefore allowing regions across England and Wales to choose how best to address and implement Sunday hours within their local areas.
So in the Commons debate later today, we urge MPs to focus once more on what really matters to our high streets, what makes economic sense for the UK, and what the public – whether shoppers, tourists or retail workers – want.