As independent retailers rally to fight the government’s proposed relaxation of Sunday Trading laws for eight weeks around the Olympics, The Grocer has learnt some retailers will be pushing for special dispensation to remain open for longer on the Sunday before Christmas as well.
The major supermarket chains traditionally have their biggest trading day of the year on 23 December, which this year will fall on a Sunday, and one supermarket insider told The Grocer this week it was considering asking for a further special relaxation of the law on this date.
Such a move would confirm the fears of small independent stores: that if Sunday trading laws are relaxed to give the economy a boost during the Olympics, the government will be able to introduce similar changes at other times.
Chancellor George Osborne confirmed the proposed changes during this week’s Budget statement. The Grocer now understands the government is planning to introduce a London Olympic and Paralympic Games Sunday Trading Bill within the next week and hopes to fast-track it through parliament in a single day. This is expected to be shortly after Easter.
The ACS, which claims the relaxation will cost convenience stores £480m of sales this summer, is calling on its members to write to their local MP to lobby support against the Bill. ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan said he was “livid that the government had said the move would be good for retail full stop without considering all elements of the sector”.
However he also said that while he expected some retailers to push for further liberalisation, particularly around the Christmas period, ACS had this week received assurances from ministers that no further changes to the law would be made without full consultation.
It is understood the supermarkets were not behind the government’s decision to introduce the temporary change and the driving force were shopping centre owners and retailers in London’s West End. Indeed the major multiples actually appear divided on the subject. Asda has always championed longer Sunday opening, while Morrisons said this week it was adopting a wait-and-see approach.
Sainsbury’s, however, came out strongly against the change. CEO Justin King called the current law “a very British compromise” and said he supported the status quo claiming that his customers did not want a change. The Co-operative Group’s acting food CEO Sean Toal said it “would not support any law that would compromise the integrity of local communities”.