SHOPS in Worthing, Shoreham and Littlehampton could be allowed to open for longer on Sundays under radical plans to devolve powers over trading hours to towns and cities in tomorrow’s Budget.
In the biggest shake-up of Sunday trading laws since the 1990s, Chancellor George Osborne wants to allow mayors and councils to determine for themselves what the rules should be in their areas.
The existing law prevents larger stores from opening for more than six hours. It was relaxed as an exception during the 2012 Olympics, resulting in a significant surge in sales.
Mr Osborne has decided that decisions on similar relaxations of the law should be taken at a local level, so that areas which think longer opening hours would boost economic activity are free to go ahead.
The Budget is expected to announce a consultation on two proposals: devolving power over Sunday trading law to elected mayors, and also to local authorities.
The Chancellor said: “Even two decades on from the introduction of the Sunday Trading Act, it is clear that there is still a growing appetite for shopping on a Sunday. There is some evidence that transactions for Sunday shopping are actually growing faster than those for Saturday.
“The rise of online shopping, which people can do round the clock, also means more retailers want to be able to compete by opening for longer at the weekend. But this won’t be right for every area, so I want to devolve the power to make this decision to mayors and local authorities.
“This will be another part of my plan to ensure a truly national recovery, with our great towns and cities able to determine their own futures.”
However, John Hannett, general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), has voiced concern.
He said: “This Act is a Great British compromise, which has worked well for over 20 years and gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday remains a special day, different to other days, and shopworkers can spend some time with their family.
“So it is difficult to see how any changes to the Act would maintain the fair and balanced settlement agreed by all sides.
Research by the New West End Company has shown that extending Sunday trading by two hours in London alone would create nearly 3,000 jobs, and generate over £200 million a year in extra income. Reform would bring Britain into line with its international competitors. For instance, Paris has recently relaxed restrictions on Sunday trading, while there are none at all in New York.
Under the Chancellor’s plans, which are expected to be taken forward in the Government’s new Enterprise Bill in the autumn, mayors and councils would be handed devolved powers to choose when stores in their areas open on a Sunday.
High street shops have been coming under growing pressure from online retailers, which now account for 11 per cent of retail sales overall – rising to 17 per cent in the month before last Christmas.
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