Ignore the Sunday-trading snobs

Guy Birchall

Topics Politics

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UK chancellor George Osborne has announced a relaxation of the laws on Sunday trading, and that is most definitely a good thing. There is no logical reason why you should be able to shop at 3am on a Thursday at your local supermarket, but if you need something at 6pm on a Sunday you either have to hope that the tiny off-licence round the corner has what you’re looking for or wait until Monday.

In a frankly hysterical piece in the Guardian, Giles Fraser appears to suggest that the relaxation of current Sunday-trading laws, which restrict shops larger than 3,000 square feet to just six hours’ trading, is a perfect example of how the Tories ‘worship the God of Money’ above all else. Apparently, allowing an Asda to be open for more than six hours on a Sunday indicates that nothing is sacred to this evil government, except productivity – which apparently Fraser is not that keen on either.

What Fraser and people who run the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign seem to be missing here is that just because the shops are open does not mean you have to go. Most supermarkets are open 24 hours a day during the week and, in general, people don’t feel inexplicably obliged to go and ‘be more productive’ (what normal people call shopping) in the wee hours.

This anti-consumer narrative sticks in the craw because it implies that most people (not Guardian columnists, obviously) have some sort of Pavlovian response to an ‘open’ sign and start salivating at the thought of the Westfield shopping centre being open for a couple more hours on a Sunday. Just as millions of people choose not to go to church on a Sunday, so, I’ll wager, millions of people will choose not to spend all of the Sabbath ‘worshiping the God of Money’ in Primark. The point is that they could if they wanted to, Sunday-trading laws don’t apply in Scotland, and I see no evidence that those north of Hadrian’s Wall spend their Sundays in a vastly different way to the rest of the UK.

What really makes keeping the Sunday-trading laws as they are so ridiculous, though, is that the biggest shopping mall in the world, the internet, is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So people already frequently shop on Sundays, they just don’t shop on the already-struggling high street, which is further hamstrung by this profoundly outdated legislation. Then there’s the benefit that being able to work a few extra hours on a Sunday could bring to those with part-time jobs. Those who work in the hospitality industry are afforded this opportunity – why refuse it to people in retail?

Those who wish to keep their Sundays reserved for family roast dinners, watching TV, reading books and recovering from Saturday night’s hangover are not having that choice taken away from them. All that will happen is that those people who do want to go and do some shopping will be able to without having to make sure they’re done by 4pm.

Guy Birchall is a writer based in Stoke.

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Topics Politics


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