Midcounties Co-op speaks out against Sunday trading changes

Phil Ponsonby has written to the government warning that vital community stores could go under if the rules are relaxed

Midcounties Co-operative has spoken out against government plans to suspend Sunday trading laws.

The government hopes the move will help to boost the economy as the UK emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown. Current laws prevent stores over 280m2 opening longer than six hours on a Sunday.

But Midcounties CEO Phil Ponsonby has written to business secretary Alok Sharma warning the move would have a disproportionately damaging impact on more remote and deprived communities across the UK.

Midcounties’ 230 food stores include large shops, which are subject to existing Sunday trading laws, and smaller convenience stores, which are not. It says, as part of its commitment to its communities, that many stores arein areas with significant levels of economic deprivation or in rural locations where other food retailers may not wish to trade.

Manu of these are only marginally viable, it adds, but it operates them “because of the vital services they provide to local communities”.

These services have been especially important during the Covid-19 crisis, it says, “as local stores in particular have gone above and beyond to meet the needs of their community.

“As an example, we launched a home-delivery service from scratch with local volunteers and local mutual aid groups, which has currently made over 45,000 deliveries to the most vulnerable people in close proximity to stores.”

But Mr Ponsonby fears that suspending the Sunday trading laws will hit trade at local community stores across the country, driving out of business and “depriving these communities of essential services”.

And he points to a recent survey by Populus which shows that Sunday Trading laws are supported by the public, with 58% supporting the current laws and just 21% wanting change – including those who want to see further restrictions on opening.

Mr Ponsonby said: “We understand the government’s desire to consider measures to stimulate the economy as we look to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s essential that the impact of these measures is properly considered.

“In our view, a suspension of the current Sunday trading laws would not result in increased consumer spending, but would be likely to reduce spending over time if community stores are forced to close.

“The current arrangement of six hours opening on a Sunday is popular, striking a balance between the needs of shopworkers, consumers, high streets and all types of business.

“But most importantly, the proposal to suspend Sunday trading laws could lead to some local community stores in the most disadvantaged and remote areas of the UK being forced to close. This would deprive these communities of access to essential services, leading to further increases in deprivation and isolation.

“At a time when these stores have been working tirelessly to meet the needs of their local communities, it is unfortunate and saddening to see the government considering measures which would only favour the big multiple operators, and it’s essential that calls for any change to the current system are resisted.”

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