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Etail has made Sunday trading laws obsolete

Mark Allatt is co-founder of campaign group Open Sundays.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Sunday Trading Act 1994, which restricts stores over 3,000 sq ft to opening for only six hours between 10am and 6pm - and reform is long overdue. The Britain of 20 years ago is a very different place from the Britain of today. The birth of online shopping means we can buy clothing from a retailer’s website at 9am on a Sunday morning, but we can’t physically go into the same shop until 10am. It doesn’t make sense.

A ComRes poll we commissioned found two-thirds of Brits are in favour of reforming the rules, with a third strongly supporting the idea. The 18 to 24 age bracket is the most supportive of full liberalisation of Sunday trading hours.

During the London 2012 Olympics, in an attempt to boost further tourist spending, the government suspended Sunday trading laws for eight consecutive weekends. The results for September 2012 showed an increase of 3.2% in retail sales, compared with 1.6% the following month when the restrictions were back in place. But the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), which is responsible for the trading laws, has ruled out a second pilot.

Not all retailers support full liberalisation - they know they may have to employ more staff and work even harder to compete. But we think Sunday trading reform would be good for consumers, good for the high street and good for shopworkers who want the freedom to work at the weekends when they choose. If stores were to open later on a Sunday, leisure outlets such as restaurants would probably follow suit, benefiting the economy.

Staff would also have the opportunity to work extra hours, if they wanted to.

BIS has said it will continue to “monitor the response of the public and the market” towards the rules. We have set ourselves the goal of achieving a full liberalisation of Sunday trading hours in the next parliament, between 2015 and 2020. Our challenge now is to force the issue up the public policy agenda to the point where politicians feel they have no option but to bring the law into line with public attitudes.

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