Monday, 21 September 2015

Open all hours?

David Cameron’s Conservative government seems intent on undermining the democratic process.
Bad news’ announcements (like the delay on rail electrification) are delayed, commissioned research remains unpublished if the conclusions are inconvenient, and there’s been a flurry of written statements on Fridays and at the very end of the parliamentary session in a way designed to prevent proper scrutiny. David Cameron himself has tried to turn Prime Minister’s Question Time into Questions to the Opposition Parties as a way of avoiding being accountable for his performance.

Therefore, it was entirely consistent that, after parliament had broken up for the summer recess and most of the public were thinking about their summer holidays, the government should announce a short consultation about changing the Sunday trading laws.

The current Sunday trading laws were established in 1994. Basically, whereas small shops can open all day, large stores were newly allowed to open for 6 hours a day. It is undoubtedly the case that retail shopping has dramatically changed over the last 20 years. Out-of-town malls have threatened city centres and, more recently, there has been a significant switch to internet shopping.

The big retailers were never satisfied with the 6 hour limit and would like to see the abolition of all Sunday trading laws. They use international comparisons to suggest that deregulation would lead to a significant increase in some types of shopping.

I think this is mostly poppycock. People don’t suddenly have more money to spend because the shops are open longer! In fact, if stores are open longer – with all the associated costs – but spending does not increase, prices will necessarily rise.

However, changing opening hours will undoubtedly have an impact on the distribution of spending. The big retailers will want to buy market share, whilst small retailers are likely to suffer.

The government is suggesting that, in different ways, some decisions on Sunday trading could be localised. Superficially, that might look attractive but, in reality, it might be difficult for one area to resist change if its neighbor is open all hours.