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Budget 2015: DUP will not follow Osborne's lead on Sunday trading opening hours

By Claire McNeilly

Published 09/07/2015

George Osborne with his red briefcase
George Osborne with his red briefcase
Iain Duncan Smith reacts as details of the Budget are revealed
Anti-austerity protesters outside Parliament
Budget

A DUP minister has ruled out any extension of Sunday opening hours in Northern Ireland after the Chancellor unveiled proposals to extend them in England and Wales in his Budget.

George Osborne plans to give mayors and councils powers to allow stores to trade for longer on the Sabbath.

Current laws permit smaller shops to open all day, but restrict those over 280sq m (3,000sq ft) to between 10am and 4pm in England and Wales.

For Northern Ireland, larger shops can open between 1pm and 6pm.

However, Social Development Minister Meryvn Storey has insisted he has "no plans to undertake a further review of Sunday shopping hours" in the foreseeable future.

It was also confirmed that delayed powers to kickstart the regeneration of Northern Ireland's 11 council areas will not include retail opening hours. These are due to come into effect next year.

The last consultation exercise on Sunday opening here was in 2011, under Mr Storey's predecessor Nelson McCausland - and it showed opinion in the province was divided.

"Responses to the consultation confirmed that public opinion on the sensitive issue of Sunday shopping hours remains divided," a spokesman for the Department for Social Development said. "The minister has no plans to undertake a further review of Sunday shopping hours."

Former Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers said the trading hours as they stand are sufficient.

"Footfall has fallen considerably over the last couple of years because a lot of people see Sunday as a day for the family rather than for shopping," he said.

"People working in the retail sector find that from 4.30pm shoppers start heading home and there doesn't seem to be an appetite for extending the current opening hours.

"Any extension would come at a cost to traders in terms of paying salaries and bills. A number of smaller shops don't currently open on Sundays because it's simply not worth their while."

The Ulster Unionist added: "If larger supermarkets and shops were allowed to trade for longer there's also a fear that this would negatively impact small independent retailers."

The shopworkers Union Usdaw said "an overwhelming majority" of Northern Ireland's shopworkers strongly oppose an extension on opening hours. Usdaw Belfast area organiser Kieran Smyth said longer hours could see people forced into working and that extra hours meant shopkeepers would have to fork out more money without getting any extra cash through their tills.

Mr Smyth added: "Opening from 1pm until 6pm is a good compromise for Northern Ireland. If you can't shop between 1pm and 6pm, what are you doing? That's more than enough time."

Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster, which represents pubs and restaurants, said there was only so much disposable income available.

"You also have to take into consideration people's religion and the family/life balance approach," Mr Neill said.

"An extra hour or so might be beneficial and create some extra revenue but to go beyond that would just be taking away from smaller traders."

However Kate Andrew, from the Adam Smith Institute, one of the world's leading think tanks, said the current laws were "antiquated".

"This idea that retail workers are protected by Sunday trading laws implies that everybody else is being exploited and that's just not true," she said.

"We have to think about people who want to do their shopping in Lidl or a store that's cheaper and currently aren't able to do so. That can add up to £20 or £30 a week extra and that's a lot of money.

"These laws have nothing to do with the retail workers and everything to do with the size of the store."

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