Leading independent convenience group Spar is criticising the government’s plans to suspend Sunday trading laws for a year in a bid to boost the economy.
Speaking on the proposal, managing director of Spar UK, Louise Hoste, said: “We are outraged that the government are planning to suspend Sunday trading laws.
“We feel disappointed that our efforts to feed the nation have not been seen as enough. Independent retailers adapted on a daily basis to ensure the general public all over the UK had access to essential items during the pandemic.
“The proposals to deregulate Sunday trading hours would have a personal impact on independent family businesses who meet local demands in villages and towns every day. Stores are essential lifelines not only for the vulnerable but for a healthy thriving local community. This has never been more evident than it is now during this pandemic, when independent SPAR stores have supported the nation, given their all to communities, and worked tirelessly to help vulnerable people.
“By changing the law now and put independent family convenience businesses at risk would be an affront.
“The current Sunday trading laws help to maintain a balance between large supermarket and small convenience stores providing food and other essential items. Extending Sunday trading hours would divert trade away from smaller community based stores to larger supermarkets, bringing negative growth to the high street.
“As a group of independent family owned businesses, employing 40,000 people across the UK, we feel any relaxation of the present restrictions would damage the legacy we have worked hard to build.”
Independent Spar retailers Julian Taylor-Green, Tristan King and Mark Cleary are in agreement.
Julian Taylor-Green owns two Spar stores said: “We’ve worked so hard since the start of this lockdown and for the government to even want to consider a change to the Sunday trading laws feels like a kick in teeth.
“The government needed our support to help them through the past few months and will continue to need independent retailers in the next 12-18 months. It’s absolutely frightening that they could think like this. We’ve played an integral role in keeping things going.
“Independent retailers and every store employee have worked tirelessly to move heaven and earth, putting their own lives at risk, in order to provide food, drink and essential services to the public. The government obviously does not recognise what we’ve been doing.
“We should be acknowledged for our work – not penalised. If plans to suspend Sunday trading laws happen, it will close hundreds of stores and thousands of local people will lose jobs especially in coastal, rural and tourist areas.”
Tristan King, who owns a family business of five Spar stores in Chesterfield, Mansfield and Retford said: “The past few months have been really tough for everyone in convenience retailing yet we stayed strong, kept our stores open and looked after the general public. We couldn’t turn our backs on people. We’ve been protecting the vulnerable and now the government feels it can do that to us. I feel betrayed.
“The extra hours we have on Sunday evenings are so important. For some retailers it can mean the difference between a business surviving or dying. With all the other rising costs that come with running an independent business today, this will be the straw that breaks our backs.
“As owners of independent convenience businesses have a responsibility for a number of livelihoods. We have a duty of care, we’re on the frontline. We’ve done all this hard work and now it could be taken away from us. I have written to the MPs in our constituencies to say that this measure being proposed is not a way of boosting the economy and by extending Sunday trading hours will not help boost the high streets.”
Owner of eight Spar stores in the Manchester area, Mark Cleary, adds: “We stepped up to the plate and acted faster than any other business during the pandemic, doing more per customer than anyone else. We’ve proved our worth and how important we are to communities, going out of our way to support local people who need us now more than ever.
“It just seems bizarre that as soon as we demonstrate what it is we do well, the government decides to take it away from independent retailers.
“If the government suspends Sunday trading laws, it will not kick-start the economy and independent stores will close.”
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), which represents 33,500 local shops on high streets and rural communities, has called on the government to shelve plans to extend Sunday trading hours. Changing the Sunday trading laws would displace trade from local stores that have been keeping communities going during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Populus poll last month showed that 58% of the public support the current laws, and only 21% oppose them.
Spar is asking everyone in the convenience industry to write to their local MP and urge them not to support the suspension of Sunday trading laws.