Small Business Advice

Sunday trading changes could harm small businesses

Jack Stratten

Potential changes to Sunday trading hours could spell trouble for smaller retailers...

According to news reports, local councils could be granted the right to extend Sunday shopping opening hours in their local area.

Currently, large stores are restricted to opening for a maximum of 6 hours between 10am and 6pm, while smaller shops have the freedom to open all day. It’s a rare example of small businesses being given the support they fully deserve.

Various Labour and SNP MPs oppose the plans, along with a small number of Conservatives, because they say it will impact the availability of premium Sunday pay rates for retail staff. But the changes could also have a negative impact on small businesses across the country.

An ‘unpopular and unnecessary measure

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, has an intimate knowledge of the consequences of Sunday trading changes. Citing trials during the London Olympics to change Sunday shopping hours, he says that small convenience stores lost as much as £26million in sales, in spite of the 450,000 extra visitors.

Lawson and others also point out that any changes to shopping restrictions are ‘unpopular’ across all parts of society. A ComRes poll suggests that 76% of the general public support the current limitations. Even more convincingly, Lawson points out that many large businesses themselves are against any changes, because longer opening hours would see the same level of customer spending but with higher overheads.

Damage to small businesses could mean damage to UK high streets

Essentially these are changes that have already proven to be unpopular and unsuccessful. But that evidence hasn’t deterred a government that’s starting to build a reputation for favouring big business over small business – reducing corporation tax while hiking business rates.

And the biggest beneficiary of these plans could be out-of-town superstores that are already taking business away from Britain’s high streets. 24-hour trading opportunities will lead customers further towards retail parks, and potentially, further away from smaller, local shops.

Independent shops typically operate on the edge of profitability, and so changes like this could be catastrophic. And while the government claims Sunday trading extensions will help UK high streets, the evidence suggests otherwise.