Belfast Telegraph

Shops should open six days and keep Sunday for rest

Extended Sunday trading is billed as the saviour of the High Street. But does the consumer demand actually exist, asks Donald C McFetridge

The debate still rumbles on about Sunday trading in light of the highly-anticipated Titanic comemorations and the implications for trading in the province when the Olympics officially begin.

Unfortunately, the same old arguments are being repeated over and over ad infinitum, with little real progress being made.

The views of retailers need to be taken into account, as do the views of employees, consumers, the unions and lobby groups.

Some - though not all - retailers would like to see the hours for trading on a Sunday extended. But a large number also take the view that opening for longer will only spread the same amount of consumer spending over a longer period of time, while adding greatly to retailers' costs.

The views of employees also need to be taken into consideration. The unions are - justifiably - concerned that employees may be forced to work against their will and, if they refuse, could face disciplinary procedures, or even dismissal.

Lobby groups are concerned that Sunday trading is in violation of the word of God, as well as being a distraction for consumers, taking them away from places of worship.

Consumers - the people who will ultimately decide whether or not extended opening hours will be a success - are given little say on the matter.

We need to ask what extending the hours of opening would do for the Northern Ireland economy. It has been highlighted that it could lead to considerable financial gain for a struggling retail sector.

Two weeks ago I spent Sunday in Gothenburg, Sweden two weeks ago and none of the shops there was open for most of the day; the only retail opportunities were at the airport before taking a flight home that evening.

Sunday past, I was in London and Oxford Street was closed for business, with only a few tourists window-shopping around 10.15am.

One of the many anomalies of current Sunday trading legislation is that it is possible to buy pornography, yet illegal to purchase a Bible on a Sunday. Surely there's something wrong here?

Two principal questions remain: First, do we really need an extension to the hours of opening on a Sunday for retailers? I don't think so.

Second, would a dispensation for special celebrations like the Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee and the Titanic comemorations help increase trade in our city centres? Yes, possibly it would, but for a limited period of time only.

Worth noting is the fact that the legislation currently allows seaside towns, for example, to open longer hours during the tourist season. This dispensation could easily be afforded those who wish to avail of potential trade. Of paramount importance is the fact that - like late-night opening before Christmas - it takes a united approach.

Towns with only a limited number of stores open along the High Street will not attract visitors into our city centres; it needs to be an all or nothing approach.

Some retailers I've talked to have told me that on St Patrick's Day, it has hardly been worth their while opening. Could it be that we are anticipating consumer demand which may simply not exist?

This question will not go away. It will undoubtedly raise its ugly head again next year when Derry celebrates City of Culture status.

Personally, I hate working, or shopping, on a Sunday and try my very best to adhere to the 'Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work' point of view. If only.

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