By Daniel Hunter

Proposed changes to the Sunday trading laws would not benefit the economy, but harm it, along with families and workers, according to campaign group Keep Sunday Special.

Since the announcement in this year’s Budget to consult on legislation to give local authorities the power to devolve Sunday trading rules in their area, the plans have been criticised as lacking a robust evidence base and causing more harm than good to families, shopworkers and local retailers alike.

Families: Proposals fail the family test

New research conducted by independent thinktank, the Social Market Foundation, has found that government has failed to apply the ‘family test’ that it introduced in 2014 for all policy decisions. The report suggests that there would be significant harm to families who will have less time to spend together, with 77% of parents already reporting that work impinges on the time that they could dedicate to spending with their children.

Additionally, Populus polling from September 2015 showed that 67% of the public are in favour of the current Sunday trading regulations.

Emran Mian, Director of the Social Market Foundation, said: “The risks to family life posed by the Government’s proposed changes to Sunday trading regulations are significant. Retail is already a sector where staff are working long and atypical hours, and working for longer on Sundays will hurt families by stopping them from spending time together.”

John Ashcroft, Director of the Relationships Foundation, said: “The plan to allow larger stores to open for longer on Sundays by giving local authorities powers to relax national law should be definitively rejected. The plans announced by the Chancellor directly contradict an assurance given on behalf of the Prime Minister in an official letter written in April this year.

“The current proposal also flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s wish to see, in his own words: “A family test applied to all domestic policy.” It would a monumental blunder to mark the upcoming first anniversary of the Family Test he subsequently introduced into government by pressing ahead with the destruction of the “reasonable balance” he spoke of just a few months ago.”

Workers: Significant pressure to work longer on Sundays

Shopworkers union USDAW have suggested that extending Sunday trading hours will put significant pressure on staff to work more hours. Across Europe, the UK already has the second highest level of hours worked per employee (42.2 hours a week), with a recent survey of USDAW members revealing that 58% of workers in large stores are currently pressured to work on Sundays.

John Hannett, General Secretary of Usdaw, said: “The Government’s proposal to devolve Sunday trading would be deeply damaging to the work-life balance of shopworkers and would create chaos in the retail sector. Our members have overwhelmingly told us that they very much value restricted Sunday trading hours, which allows them a little time to spend with their family and provides a welcome breather in an increasingly 24 hour sector.

“It is little surprise that the devolution proposal is not attracting support from retailers, who will be extremely concerned about the threat of different Sunday trading regulations in every local authority area. This represents a huge imposition of red-tape and would create chaos across the industry.

“The Sunday Trading Act is a great British compromise, which has worked well for over 20 years and gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday remains a special day, different to other days, and shopworkers can spend some time with their family.”

Retailers: Local Shops Would be Harmed by Changes; No Benefit to Large Stores

The Government’s primary justification for changing Sunday trading rules is based on a supposed economic benefit of £1.4bn a year. However, research conducted by Oxford Economics has suggested that any claims of economic benefit are overstated and that the proposals would serve only to divert trade from small stores to larger stores.

James Lowman, Association of Convenience Stores chief executive, said: “The impact of allowing large out of town stores to open whenever they like on Sundays will be devastating to both convenience stores and high streets. During the Government’s failed experiment on removing Sunday Trading laws for the Olympics in 2012, local shops lost up to 20% of their sales on Sundays while wider retail sales also fell between 0.2% and 0.4%. These plans have the potential to put thousands of small stores at risk.”

James Bielby, Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive, said: “This proposal would divert business from small stores to larger ones, damaging local economies, reducing diversity in the retail estate and depriving communities of unique independent shops. There is no convincing economic case in favour of the change and a strong majority of the public are in favour of maintaining the current arrangement. The £30bn wholesale industry supports more than 1.1million jobs up and down the country. Changing the Sunday Trading rules would put these at risk."

Paul Baxter, National Federation of Retail Newsagents chief executive, said: “Already hard pressed independent retailers will bear the brunt of these unwelcome proposed changes, which will result in less choice on the high street for consumers as local councils give out of town supermarkets precedence.”