UK budget: Supermarkets divided over Osborne's Sunday trading shake-up

Chancellor George Osbourne has devolved powers to mayors and local authorities

Sunday trading hours in England and Wales are to undergo a shake-up following the presentation of the summer budget.

In Chancellor George Osborne’s financial plan presented today, it was announced that English and Welsh counties and elected mayors will be given the power to decide how long large stores can stay open on Sunday. Historically, Sunday trading hours have been curbed at six hours.

Supermarket giants Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have emerged as being opposed to relaxing Sunday hours, according to The Independent, while Asda, Morrisons, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Next and House of Fraser, are said to have welcomed the news.

The Independent reported that Andy Clarke, Chief Executive of Asda, hailed the relaxation as “common sense” while a Morrison’s spokesman said many of its customers would “appreciate” an easing of the rules.

John Witherell, Head of Supermarket Group at CBRE UK, said: “Over the last decade, they [convenience stores] have expanded rapidly by capitalising on demand outside of Sunday trading restrictions. While their growth has been dramatic, in some areas it has reached saturation point and the relaxation of Sunday trading for larger stores could mean that outlets operating at margin will face a further squeeze. This is good news for the ‘Big Four’ supermarkets who operate only one in 20 UK convenience stores and, with the largest retail sites, will take greatest advantage from the increase in Sunday trading hours.”

Osborne’s plan to relax trading hours is motivated by a strategy to boost spending and meet consumer demand. Osbourne 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.”

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