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Government rules out permanently relaxing Sunday trading hours

Minister for business and enterprise Mark Prisk said there are “absolutely no plans” to permanently relax Sunday trading hours after legislation was passed yesterday to relax trading laws during the Olympic Games.

Legislation to extend Sunday trading over the eight Sundays from July 22 to September 9 was approved in parliament last night. Some observers had thought the move signalled an intent by government to make the relaxation of trading laws on Sundays a permanent measure.

However, Prisk said: “We’ve made this a one-off during a unique occasion. We felt it was an opportunity to do something special and we’ve made it clear in the legislation that once the final day is concluded the policy will be revoked.

“We have absolutely no plans [to make the legislation more permanent].”

He added one of the reasons for introducing the legislation was due to concern that the Games could have an adverse impact on retailers as regular shoppers may choose to stay at home to avoid the crowds.

“We will have many visitors coming to the UK and not just London and we wanted to give retailers the flexibility for them and their staff to trade when they want,” said Prisk. “It will also give families the flexibility to shop when they want.

“In some areas such as rural locations the extended trading hours won’t make a huge difference but it’s about enabling businesses.”

At present, retailers over 280 sq m are restricted to any six hours of continuous trading between 10am and 6pm on Sundays but the emergency legislation will allow retailers in England and Wales to trade for six extra hours during the Olympics and Paralympics.

The Chancellor confirmed the Government was seeking to push through Sunday trading in his Budget speech last month.

Retailers have expressed mixed reactions to the change.

Next chief executive Lord Wolfson has called for the change to be made permanent but The Co-operative came out against the decision fearing the “detrimental impact that this is likely to have on already beleaguered high streets”.

Asda, Debenhams and Tesco welcomed the move. Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King has said he does not expect any sale pickup from Sunday trading over the Olympics other than in a few London stores.

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