YES Sunday trading laws are a quirk in British business regulation that should be ironed out. If you run an office-based business or a factory you can stay open seven days a week, providing services that your customers want and allowing staff to maximise their earnings. If you run a shop over a certain size [in England, Wales and Northern Ireland], the law makes you close early on Sundays, even though customers may be queueing up outside.
This is harmful – not only for the shops involved and for customers seeking convenience, but for the economy as a whole. Millions of people would love the chance to get back into work but this law restricts the opening hours of a popular type of business that could employ many of them.
The benefits of relaxing the law outweigh criticisms of the idea. Some small shops warn of a loss of trade if larger competitors are open on Sundays, but we need to accept that protectionism is a blunt and damaging tool. Convenience stores succeed because they give a personalised, local service that big supermarkets can never provide – relaxing Sunday trading laws won't change that.
Others worry that staff might end up working seven days a week. But the economy already runs extremely well with industries that operate all sorts of hours, and flexible arrangements such as shift working abound. Why should shops be any different? Sunday trading laws are an unfair and economically damaging anomaly, and abolishing them would free up business to create more jobs and serve more customers.
Mark Wallace is head of media relations at the IoD
NOThe chancellor's decision to suspend Sunday trading laws for eight weeks this summer – after no consultation or public debate – was a body blow for local shops. We estimate that the cost of liberalising Sunday trading just for the Olympics and Paralympics will be £480m in lost sales, or £100m in lost gross profit. That will make the difference between survival and closure for many local shops.
The equation is simple: take away this advantage for small shops and expect to see thousands of them shut down. Compare the inconvenience of not being able to visit a large store for a few hours on a Sunday with the implications of losing your local shop seven days a week. You would lose not just products sold in the store, but the essential community lifeline that those businesses provide.
And where is the additional trade coming from to support these extra opening hours? The big retailers aren't pushing for more opening hours. Why? Because retailers are struggling to generate the sales to justify their current opening hours. Add the costs of additional staffing, lighting, chilling and heating and even the superstores could become less profitable as a result of this move.
If eight weeks' suspension will damage local shops, permanent change to these laws would be fatal for countless retailers. The compromise on Sunday trading hours we now have in place is popular and effective. Ripping it up would be a grave mistake.
James Lowman is chief executive of ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores)