Supermarket giants opposed to new Sunday hours

Exclusive: Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose all declined to comment, but industry sources have suggested executives are not keen to relax the rules

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The Independent Online

Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have become unlikely allies in fighting plans to relax Sunday trading laws expected to be revealed by the Chancellor, George Osborne.

Asda, Morrisons, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Next, House of Fraser and other chains have welcomed the new rules, which will end regulations that ban larger stores in England and Wales from opening for more than six hours on a Sunday.

The chief executive of Asda, Andy Clarke, hailed the relaxation as “common sense” and a Morrison’s spokesman said many of its customers would “appreciate” an easing of the rules.

However, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose all declined to comment, with industry sources and people close to the supermarkets suggesting executives are not keen to relax the rules because it would mean fewer customers heading to their convenience stores, where prices are generally higher.

Current laws mean that any store below 3,000 sq ft can open for longer on a Sunday, and the supermarkets have taken advantage of this by increasing the number of smaller convenience stores.

Sainsbury’s opened two new convenience stores a week last year, and its chief executive Mike Coupe said he had a target of 1,500 stores.

A senior retail source told The Independent: “Supermarkets actually quite like Sunday trading laws the way they are, because many of them take the same amount in sales across the six hours of trading as they do in an entire day on Saturday.

“Customers then go to convenience stores and spend even more, so why would supermarkets want to open stores up for longer hours, with all the extra costs involved, if they can get the same money in a shorter space of time?”

The source pointed out that Morrisons and Asda both had next to no convenience stores and would therefore be keen on longer Sunday trading, while Tesco and Sainsbury’s both have a huge convenience store portfolios and many loss-making larger stores.

But dozens of other retailers are keen on the planned changes, which are expected to give power to local authorities to decide how long stores can open.

M&S chief executive Marc Bolland said he would be happy for a relaxation of the rules. He said: “We have not been part of an extensive lobby for that… but if [the law] relaxes, we will certainly use it in stores where it is wanted and we would welcome it for certain stores.”

Its high street fashion rival Next also welcomed the proposal. A spokesman said: “Next has always been ‘pro’ longer Sunday trading, as it’s good for customers, especially those unable to shop on weekdays.

“It also creates jobs, gives employment at weekends to those who want it, and makes management of the Next Boxing Day Sale much easier when it falls on a Sunday.”

A Morrison’s spokesman said: “Many customers tell us that they would appreciate a relaxation of Sunday trading hours. On Sundays, they can shop online or place a bet at a high street bookie, but sometimes they can’t visit their local supermarket. So we support the idea of a sensible change of opening hours.”

House of Fraser’s chief customer officer, Andy Harding, said the plan would help customers “in terms of providing further flexibility and choice as to how or when they want to shop”.

Unions and small business groups are opposed to the changes, warning that they will lose customers and staff will be put under pressure to work on Sundays.