The plans were shelved last October, following a backlash from the retail industry, but yesterday, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, confirmed he was pressing ahead with the move, which will allow councils to extend Sunday opening hours in their areas, if they believe it is the best approach.
At present, in England and Wales, stores that are over 280 square metres are allowed to open for six continuous hours, between the hours of 10am and 6pm (for example 10am–4pm) on a Sunday. Small stores (those under 280 square metres, which is roughly the size of a doubles tennis court) do not have any restrictions on Sunday opening hours.
Javid told MPs: “Central government will not be dictating how to use this power. The decision will be entirely local, reflecting local preferences, shopping habits and economic conditions.”
As the idea is being introduced through an amendment to the Enterprise Bill, there will be less opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.
In response, John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, said the plans were a “betrayal of shopworkers and all those who regard Sunday as a special day”.
It was also announced that a special religious clause would be included – an employer would be legally obliged to remove an employee from Sunday shifts if they gave a month’s notice. It is unclear how it would be proven that the time off would be for religious reasons.
There is a Keep Sunday Special campaign, which is against the proposals. Some smaller shops are also worried, fearing the proposals will benefit out-of-town retail parks rather than high streets.