Sunday trading hours debate renewed by Olympics

Shoppers on London's Oxford Street last week The Olympics have been a mixed blessing for shops despite the relaxation of Sunday trading rules

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The debate over whether to loosen Sunday trading restrictions in England and Wales has been reignited after a temporary extension for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Mark Wallace from the Institute of Directors (IoD), said retailers should be given an "opportunity to compete as much as they can".

He told the BBC that with the internet open for shopping all the time it was "bizarre" to restrict physical retail.

Others question the need for change.

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard said he did not think extending Sunday trading hours would "necessarily bring about significant growth".

He said: "A lot of people don't want to have to work on Sundays... they want to spend time with their family, go to church, or have some downtime."

The prime minister's official spokesman told a press gathering that there had been a specific act of parliament to extend trading hours during the Games.

But when asked about a permanent change in the law he replied "a lot of people will want to look at the issue".

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, was quoted in the weekend press saying he was willing to look at the impact of the temporary relaxation on trade.

'Historical quirk'

Under current legislation, shops in England and Wales of more than 280 square metres (3,000 square feet) can open for a maximum of six hours on a Sunday, and only between the hours of 10:00 and 18:00. However, during the Olympics and Paralympic Games, which end on 9 September, shops are free to choose their own hours.

The IoD's Mark Wallace said: "It's a historical quirk that offices, factories and all sorts of other businesses can open when they need to, but shops are forbidden from doing so.

"We know there are people out of work or underemployed who desperately want more opportunities, and we know there is an appetite among consumers to shop during normal hours on Sundays, so it is silly to have a rule that holds both groups back."

Sir Stuart Rose, former head of Marks & Spencer, said he thought it was highly likely that Sunday hours would move into line with those allowed on other days of the week: "Personally I do think it will become a permanent fixture over time.

"My only fear is it will put a little bit of pressure on workers, it is important to remember the hard work that is done by staff in shops," he told the BBC.

Early indications suggest that the Olympics have had a mixed effect on retail sales, with some shops claiming they have seen increased trading while others have reported deserted stores.

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