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Alex Deane: An end to Sunday trading laws, now!

Alex Deane headshotOver the course of the Olympics, trading laws are temporarily liberalised to permit shops to service the demands our capital will see from consumers during the Games.

But the demand for goods and services in evenings and on Sundays isn't restricted to this narrow period during the summer of 2012.

The fact that this period will pass without terrible harm done to our retail sector - indeed, perhaps with some benefit - should be noted, and used as a spur to reconsider our restrictive, antiquated trading laws.

We should retain the "temporary" liberalised laws permanently, for the following reasons:

  • Economic growth

UK retail has suffered in recent years from high inflation (which is admittedly improving now) and poor consumer confidence which is not). It's a truism that consumer spending plays a major role in wider economic growth; limiting the opportunities for consumers to spend is counterproductive. The British high street is struggling: attracting consumers back for an additional day of spending would provide much needed support for businesses, both big and small.

  • Fairness between retailers

The current rules are unfair. Some retailers can remain open while others are forced to close by a classification system that seems arbitrary, outdated and meaningless to consumers. Both Scotland and the Republic of Ireland impose no restriction on Sunday trading - there's no problem in either jurisdiction, demonstrating the absurdity of arrangements in England and Wales. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that smaller retailers break the rules with relative impunity, whilst larger outlets – by dint of their higher visibility – are required rigidly to adhere to them.

  • Personal choice

The government should not limit the options of how individuals and families spend their Sundays. Proponents of the current law believe that Sunday should remain a day for family and community activity or religious worship; these are perfectly reasonable views for an individual to hold but are personal choices and should not require a limiting of alternative activities through regulation. These choices don’t have to be mutually exclusive; in fact if consumers no longer had to build their weekend schedule around restrictive shopping hours, they would have greater flexibility to engage in a wide range of activities.

And some people like to shop. That's a choice, too. Why shouldn't they be able to exercise it? The current rules mean that the flagship stores of some of Britain’s most popular and internationally recognisable brands are forced to close, even as other, smaller shops or different types of outlets remain open. This inevitably leads to confusion and disappointment amongst both residents and the 30 million international visitors to the UK every year, many of whom mill around destinations such as Oxford Street struggling to understand why the shops are closed for half of a day on the weekend.
  • Employment

Proponents of the current regulation claim that there is little desire among employees to work on Sunday, and that they would be pressured to do so if Sunday trading were to become legal. However, in practice this hasn't happened in any real way in Scotland (and where it happened in a minor way, it was swiftly punished): moreover, that theoretical, small, manageable harm is being used as an argument to perpetuate a much larger, actual harm: some people do want to work and restricting their ability to do so is wrong. As unemployment numbers continue to increase, the additional jobs that would be created by deregulation and the option for staff to work more premium rate hours would be welcomed by the majority. So long as nobody is forced to work when they don’t want to, the downside is really little more than illusory.

I'm a Christian myself. If I don't believe in shopping on Sunday, then I won't shop. But I see no reason to inflict my own views or values on others.

Free shops, free shoppers, free the economy! An end to Sunday trading laws, now!


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