A proposal that could give Lincoln authorities the power to extend trading hours of larger shops on a Sunday has been met with trepidation by local small and medium businesses after the Summer Budget announcement.
The announcement by the Chancellor George Osborne on July 8 included a consultation on relaxed Sunday trading laws which would see powers over trading hours devolved to mayors, councils and local authorities.
The plans are expected to be taken forward in the government’s new Enterprise Bill in the autumn – the biggest change to trading law since the 1990s.
Current laws prevent stores larger than 3,000 sq ft from opening for more than six hours between 10am and 6pm, while shops covering less than 3,000 sq ft can open all day.
High street shops have been coming under growing pressure from online retailers, which now account for 11% of retail sales overall – rising to 17% in the month before last Christmas.
Prior to the budget announcement Osborne said: “Even two decades on from the introduction of the Sunday Trading Act, it is clear that 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.”
Local small business owners are worried that the new rules could put undue pressure on independent businesses.
Linda Wardale, Chairman of the Bailgate Guild and owner of Yellowbellys of Bailgate, said: “I’m not sure that I would welcome extended Sunday trading for larger shops.
“I think it could put more pressure on independent businesses. A lot of small independent businesses are sole traders and opening for another day of the week and employing more staff on a Sunday is just not feasible.
“I am still very much a believer that Sunday is a day of rest and it’s the only day of the week where most business people get to spend time with their families. I would feel sorry for the people that would have to work the extra hours.
“Of course we would benefit from the extra trade and when we go out on a Sunday it does seem that there are more people about, the roads are a lot busier, but if you don’t take the time out and see your family then you burn out.
“I also think extended opening hours would pull people away from the independents to the bigger shops where they can stay longer and would be detrimental to smaller businesses who can’t afford the extra staffing.”
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Labour Leader of Lincoln City Council, said: “Habits and customer expectations have changed a great deal over the years and this is in recognition of people’s expectations. They can shop seven days a week without undue restrictions, proven by the rise in online shopping.
“On the other hand there is a case for being concerned about additional unsociable hours being worked by members of staff and the belief by some that Sunday should be kept special.
“The council will have to think carefully about how the balance might be struck between these potentially conflicting needs and interests.”