Introduction

The Government has issued a consultation on whether to devolve the power to extend Sunday trading hours to local areas. The six-week consultation, launched on 5th August 2015, is an attempt to reflect upon the current restrictions on Sunday trading hours, established by the Sunday Trading Act 1994 (‘the 1994 Act’). The Government believes that devolving Sunday trading rules would provide businesses and consumers with greater choice and flexibility, as the rules would reflect local preferences. The agenda is geared towards supporting local high streets in a rapidly developing internet age.

The 1994 Act

The 1994 Act limits the trading hours of larger stores (those with a relevant floor area of 280 square metres) to six hours on a Sunday. The opening hours of smaller shops are not restricted and exemptions apply to certain shops such as pharmacies, specialist off-licences, petrol stations and motorway service stations. The Government recognises that the consumer environment has changed significantly since the 1994 Act was passed; the internet gives consumers the freedom to shop online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Purpose of the Proposals

Economic Benefits

  • It has been estimated that extending Sunday trading hours across England and Wales would result in benefits equal to £1.4 billion each year, resulting from increased footfall and efficiency in shops on Sundays.
  • Major cities would be able to compete internationally for tourists; other major cities such as New York and Dubai do not have Sunday trading restrictions.

Localism

  • The Government recognises that the needs of businesses and consumers vary from place to place, so local authorities are in the best position to determine the approach to Sunday trading in their locality. This is part of the wider goal of reducing regulation.

Greater choice

  • Consumers would have greater choice as to when and where they shop, businesses would have more flexibility regarding opening times and shop workers who wish to work on a Sunday would have more options.

The Options

The Government is consulting on two options for devolving Sunday trading rules locally:

1)  Devolving powers to local leaders e.g. elected metro mayors through ‘devolution deals’

  • Local leaders would be empowered to extend Sunday trading hours within certain parts of their area, in support of their local economic development strategies.

2)  Devolving powers to local authorities more generally

  • Local authorities would have the discretion to choose specific localities which would benefit from longer Sunday trading hours and exclude out of town supermarkets if they wish.
  • The power would be granted to Unitary Authorities or District Councils, which would be accountable to the local community.

Opponents of the Proposals

The Government recognises that many people believe that Sundays have religious significance, or simply feel that Sunday should be a day of rest, set aside for family time. Additionally, opponents of the proposals see the measures as symbol of creeping commercialisation of society.

Exceptions to the Proposals

  • Large stores are currently not permitted to open at all on Easter Sunday or Christmas Day and the Government does not intend to change this position.
  • Shop workers who started their employment before 26th August 1994 and have continuously remained in that employment cannot be required to work on a Sunday, due to protections under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
  • All other shop workers can give their employer an ‘opting-out’ notice, which gives them the right to opt out of Sunday working, with effect from three months from the day that the notice was given.

The Consultation

The consultation seeks the views of individuals and businesses on whether Sunday trading hours should be devolved to local areas. The closing date of the consultation is 16th September 2015.