Potential devolution of Sunday trading hours

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Changes to Sunday trading restrictions could be afoot

The government has announced the launch of a new consultation that will examine the feasibility, benefits and drawbacks of a devolution of powers to set Sunday trading hours to local authorities.

Businesses across the UK - particularly those in the retail sector - will be eagerly awaiting the outcome of this latest assessment of public attitudes to a potential relaxation of Sunday trading laws. Indeed, increased local autonomy could see a slackening of the current restrictive hours of operation that limit potential shopping time on what could be one of the busiest days of the week.

Organised by the Department for Communities and Local Government in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the consultation will examine two proposals. It will discuss whether the best course of action should be to devolve future powers to set local Sunday trading periods to either elected mayors or, alternatively, to local authorities.

Existing laws surrounding Sunday trading were introduced more than 20 years ago and the government now wishes to examine any change in public attitudes that may have taken place in the following years.

Research recently published by the New West End Company predicted the considerable economic benefits that could be achieved through a relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions. The body claimed that extending Sunday trading by two hours in London alone could help in the creation of almost 3,000 jobs, as well as generating more than £200 million a year in extra income.

Extrapolated across the whole of England and Wales - separate legislation covers Sunday trading in both Scotland and Northern Ireland - the windfall for the national economy, and for businesses that make use of these expanded freedoms, could be considerable.

At present, Sunday trading restrictions apply to all retailers with square footage exceeding 3,000 sq ft. However, with growing competition for UK high streets from online traders, the government is now keen to find out if communities across the country would be in favour of increased trading hours for all.

Communities minister Brandon Lewis commented: "We have already taken a range of measures to boost the Great British high street and now we are giving local areas another tool to encourage shoppers to the town centre and get shops to grow and thrive."

Meanwhile, business minister Anna Soubry said: "Modern Sunday trading laws have the potential to create thousands of jobs across the country and help British businesses to thrive.

"Today's consultation gives business, shoppers and interested groups the chance to have their say on Sunday trading."

The consultation is now underway and will remain open for public responses until September 16th 2015 for respondents across England and Wales.