MINISTERS are calling on the Church of England to support plans to relax Sunday trading laws. The Government says that this would boost the high street and cut shopping bills in British homes.
The proposals, released in a consultation on Wednesday, would delegate the power to determine Sunday trading hours to elected mayors and local authorities. Currently, stores with more than 3000 sq. ft of floor space can open for six hours.
In a letter to the House of Bishops, published on Wednesday, the local-government minister Brandon Lewis urged the Church to back the reforms, which, he says, would bring life to declining town-centres.
“The Government has been determined to revive our nation’s high streets to ensure they remain the heartbeat of our communities for decades to come,” Mr Lewis wrote. “High streets provide the social, cultural and essential services so many local people enjoy and rely on.”
The proposals, announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Budget speech in July, were criticised in a statement from Church House, which said that extending opening hours on Sundays would “inevitably lead to further erosion of shared leisure time,” affecting sport and religious observance.
On Wednesday, a Church House spokesman stood by the statement: “Increased Sunday trading . . . seems quite contrary to the objectives of the Big Society, which once helped to shape policy and which the Church of England enthusiastically supported. Any further erosion of shared community life whether that is driven by central or local government will be detrimental to all of us.
“The bishops will reply to any letters sent to them by Government and the Church of England will respond in due course to the consultation.”
Ministers are pushing for local authorities to limit how long larger stores stay open, to encourage competitive trading for smaller high-street shops. Government research suggests extending trading by two hours in London would create about 3000 jobs, and generate more than £200 million a year extra. It calculates that the reforms would give a £1.4-billion boost to the economy.
The Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, said that, in contrast with online retailers, “the rules on Sunday trading for our high-street stores and bigger outlets haven’t changed for over 20 years. This is damaging to bricks-and-mortar stores and frustrating to customers.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, responded on Wednesday, writing in his blog that though the Government’s “aim is noble”, the reforms confirmed that “we have become a market society, driven by consumer economics.” He suggested restricting rather than expanding Sunday trading. “We are not born to shop,” he wrote.
The Christian public-affairs charity CARE said that it was “deeply concerned” by the move. Its chief executive, Nola Leach, said: “The idea that extending Sunday-trading laws will improve our country in the long run is extremely short-sighted. . . .If the Government is serious about promoting family values, then it should support the idea that we should all have time off in common. Pursuing economic growth . . . must never be at the expense of undermining the social fabric of our nation.”
Retail workers deserve support over Sundays - Letters
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