Ten years after Sunday trading reform, two thirds of big box retailers in England and Wales are demanding even further liberalisation, according to research by law firm Bond Pearce. So…

YES says Tony Askham, partner at Bond Pearce, because shopping is a leisure activity and retailers want to respond to this shift

It is only a matter of time before the laws are relaxed. Ten years after the introduction of Sunday trading, there is no evidence it has caused any harm. Society and retailing have developed in tandem and Sunday opening is now common in most large towns and cities.

Now, nearly all supermarkets open on Sundays, as do most other out-of-town retailers. Rather than suffering the decline that many opponents of Sunday trading predicted, our cities and towns have benefited from the increased footfall. Consider how busy leisure facilities, restaurants, libraries and museums are these days due to the greater numbers of people in cities and towns on a Sunday.

Any retailers that have gripes about further liberalisation need to wake up and smell the coffee. This is about consumer demand. Many larger supermarkets struggle to cope with the growing number of shoppers who want to use them on a Sunday.

Shoppers want Sunday trading. They want the maximum opportunities to shop at times that suit them. Shopping is no longer a dull but necessary chore - it’s a leisure activity. Retailers quite rightly want to respond to this seismic shift and satisfy the demand for longer opening hours on a Sunday.

The old argument that the current law provides the only remaining protection for small independent retailers against the competitive might of the multiples’ big-box stores doesn’t wash. You only have to look at Scotland, which already has deregulated trading.

The simple fact of the matter is that while a few stores will open throughout the 24 hours of Sunday, most will not. While some shops will open for longer than six hours, many will not. Hardly the stuff of nightmares.

Then there’s the argument that workers will be exploited. This is nonsense. A major plank of the legislation and one that will no doubt continue to be followed was extensive shop worker protection. This protection ensured that shop workers employed when the legislation came into effect could not be compelled to work on a Sunday by their employer.

In addition, all shop workers, except those who work only on Sundays, can opt out of Sunday work by giving three months’ notice in writing. These provisions, which were subsequently extended to those who work in betting shops and to Scottish shop workers, were key to ensuring fairness after the reform.

The 10 years of Sunday trading since the Sunday
Trading Act show that Sundays have not been ruined, workers have not been exploited and convenience shops have not been decimated. We have experienced a period of sustained economic growth to which retail has been a major contributor. Sunday trading has helped that growth.

I believe it is inevitable that total deregulation should and will occur, first because there is so much pressure to do so, and second, because the growth of internet shopping demonstrates the absurdity of seeking to maintain the restrictions. If it is lawful on Sunday to order goods online throughout the 24 hours and for retailers to deliver them, it should also be lawful for all retailers to employ people to work in shops on Sundays.

We will all benefit by lifting the restrictions on hours imposed 10 years ago, given the level of shop worker protection already in place. At the end of the day, the demands of consumers will ensure the market meets their needs.

NO insists Alan Toft, director general, Federation of Wholesale Distributors. Relaxation would kill off the c-store revival

It is inconceivable that the government will allow the proposals to deregulate Sunday trading hours to pass first base. The hard-won restriction permitting supermarkets of more than 3,000 sq ft to trade for six hours on Sunday has been a lifeline for thousands of independent retailers.

Small shops say they can achieve 25% of their weekly profits on a Sunday after 4pm when most of the large stores close their doors. Every reader of The Grocer must have noticed the buzz in their local store on a Sunday evening - especially around the off-licence shelves,where the margins protect many independents from bankruptcy.

Insiders tell me that changes to Sunday trading
legislation are not on the government’s agenda and we can believe this in view of the massive burden of legislation that Tony Blair has swirling around Westminster.

In addition, it could be said that the giant superstores lobbying for the right to trade for 24 hours, seven days a week are not the flavour of the month in Whitehall. First, the Office of Fair Trading is sending auditors into the buying offices of the big four to unearth possible breaches of the Code of Practice for supermarkets. The code is designed to prevent abuse of buying power. It has not worked and therefore the OFT has launched its investigation into what goes on when a manufacturer and a big four buyer agree a deal.

Second, the former chief of the OFT, Professor John Bridgeman, recently admitted that the Competition Commission made a mistake when it ruled that the grocery market was split into two sectors - big shop and top-up. He now admits that recent OFT decisions approving superstore acquisitions of small stores have been based on flawed thinking.

Then there are the farmers complaining that their share of the retail price of a long list of produce has fallen dramatically. The National Farmers’ Union and the superstores are not the best of friends.

Again, the judiciary demonstrated its appreciation of the small business lobby versus the superstores when the Competition Appeals Tribunal was asked to grant the full legal costs against the Federation of Wholesale Distributors in a case involving Tesco’s acquisition of Cullens, Harts and Europa convenience stores.

The tribunal said the small business lobby should not be discouraged from challenging the superstores by the threat of huge legal costs. The lobby against superstore power has now developed into a broad church of academics, militant trade associations, sociologists, planners, and most importantly, members of parliament.

Jim Dowd, MP, chairman of the all-party small shops group in the Commons, has told wholesalers that he supports the FWD campaign against superstore expansion into the small store sector.

Against this background of mounting opposition to any more superstore power, how can the government repeal the Sunday Trading Act or amend it to give the giants “another few hours’ trading”, as one of their leaders put it?

It would bring an abrupt halt to the revival in the community of the convenience store sector, the village shop and the thousands of family businesses and sole traders.