Simon Danczuk MP

Fighting for Rochdale, Littleborough and Milnrow

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Simon Danczuk welcomes Government U-turn over Sunday trading

NOW he has been forced to shelve his plans to extend Sunday trading, George Osborne needs to realise that the economic argument for longer opening hours is well past its sell-by-date.

By my count, the Government has tried and failed to push through legislation on relaxing Sunday trading laws three times since 2010.

Staff, customers and small shopkeepers alike will now be hoping this is third time lucky and that the Chancellor will finally abandon the idea altogether.

This latest attempt, with deregulation of weekend trading cunningly disguised as devolution of power to local councils, came uncomfortably close to success and we have the Scottish National Party to thank for spoiling Mr Osborne’s weekend plans.

Make no mistake, giving councils the power to permit longer Sunday opening would create many losers and very few winners.

Figures from the Keep Sunday Special campaign show that two thirds of council chief executives believe that longer opening hours in neighbouring areas would have a negative impact on local rade. Forced into direct competition over deregulation, local authorities would waste no time in waving through 24 hour Sunday opening for supermarkets.

The lack of uniformity in Sunday trading laws would result in a convoluted patchwork of different rules, creating an unfair disparity for workers and wreaking havoc for any national chain trying to establish a coherent country-wide trading strategy.

Supermarket staff would be coerced into working longer hours with, as the SNP pointed out, a very real risk that wages would be pushed down.

Small shop owners too would need to open longer in a desperate bid to compete, another headache for business owners who are among the hardest working people in any community.

With a mandatory living wage coming in and meaningful business rate reform still a long way off, the Chancellor’s U-turn is a rare bit of good news for shopkeepers in my constituency of Rochdale.

One corner shop owner told me of his relief that the plans had been scrapped and spoke longingly of a simpler time when opening on a Sunday was unheard of.

“It used to be the one day we got to ourselves to have a rest and see our families,” he said. “I don’t know many other jobs where people work so many hours 365 days a year.”

The days of a completely shutterd-up Sunday are a thing of the past, but there is no valid argument for turning what should be a special day into just another shopping opportunity.

Our existing Sunday trading laws, which allow for limited opening between set times, are a classic example of a Great British compromise.

Like the monarchy, cricket, and our refusal to drink beer in litres, they are a little convoluted, rooted in tradition and a tad confusing to outsiders, but they work.

The idea that longer Sunday hours is the key to a major economic boom is nothing more than a myth.

Simply opening for longer on a Sunday does not magically create more customers or greater demand. It spreads shopping across seven days rather than six and a half and diverts customers from community based convenience shops to the soulless out-of-town mega-markets.

Those in favour will cite the brief period during the 2012 Olympics during which trading restrictions were lifted. But the experiment was more of a false start than a gold medal winner as convenience stores lost an estimated £26m in sales to their larger rivals.

If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is intent on ignoring the figures, then perhaps he will listen to his heart and the testimony of supermarket staff. Three quarters of shop workers already say they are unhappy with their work life balance and struggle to find time to spend with their children. Because of trading restrictions, Sunday is often the only day families get to spend together.

Relaxing Sunday trading laws would inflict misery on thousands of hardworking people. Perhaps Mr Osborne should take a quiet Sunday at home to reflect on that.

(This article originally appeared in The Grocer in November 2015)

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