One announcement in the summer budget is likely to be of general interest to charities with retail premises, even though it has most direct impact on the larger retailers. The consultation on devolving powers on Sunday trading to local areas, allowing them to extend hours within set parameters, was published on 5 August 2015 and is continuing. What are the issues at stake?
The rules on Sunday trading in England and Wales are governed by the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Put simply, it allows shops to open on Sundays but restricts those with an area over 280m2 (with certain exceptions such as pharmacies, petrol stations and airport shops) to a maximum of six hours, which must fall between 10am and 6pm.
The debate over extending Sunday trading hours has been ongoing for many years. Large retailers argue it would generate trade and therefore boost the economy and many members of the public say they would like greater flexibility as to when they can shop.
On the other hand, smaller businesses argue there would be no boost to the economy, simply a movement of sales to their larger rivals as they lose their competitive edge. Meanwhile many retail employees are concerned they will come under pressure to work on Sundays, or that they will suffer as their employers seek to cut costs to cover increased overheads.
The government’s consultation is part of their wider commitment to devolution to cities and local areas (such as locally elected mayors) through bespoke deals, or more generally to local authorities, or both.
It is argued that local leaders are in the best position to decide whether longer Sunday trading hours will benefit their area. The government is keen to support the high street and one suggestion is to grant local areas the power to relax high street trading rules whilst retaining them at out-of-town retail parks.
Opponents, however, have argued that changes to the existing rules will result in chaos as both retailers and consumers try to cope with different regulatory regimes across the country.
The consultation will close on 16 September 2015 – watch this space for further updates.