Would relaxed Sunday trading hours help rescue the high street?

Tavern Street, Ipswich.

Tavern Street, Ipswich.

I can’t help thinking shops are already open long enough to satisfy the spending cravings of even the most committed of consumers.

But it seems the Government begs to differ.

Ministers have launched a consultation on plans to relax Sunday trading restrictions in order to help high streets “remain the heartbeat of our communities”. Apparently, the idea is that local authorities could use the new powers to encourage business in traditional high streets by extending opening hours there while, if they wish, excluding out-of-town superstores.

On the face of it that sounds like a great idea. After all, high streets have long been losing out to edge-of-town retailers and internet stores, which can offer cheaper prices, convenience and are open 24 hours a day. But I’m not so sure this is the way to help the high street. Problems there, I suspect, might just run a little deeper than Sunday opening hours.

The truth is, I suspect, this is a plan that should come with a health warning. Something along the lines of: ‘Beware: cynical move designed to fuel consumer debt’.

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I say this because I can’t help thinking communities minister Brandon Lewis inadvertently revealed the true motive of the bid to relax Sunday trading restrictions (which was actually first mentioned by Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget) when he said the move could be worth up to £1.4 billion a year to the economy.

That’s right. They want us all to go and spend more money we don’t have, rack up yet more credit card debt and buy things we neither really want nor need.

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All this comes just months after consumer helplines warned that Britons had run up the highest level of new debt for almost seven years, with November 2014’s borrowing on credit cards, loans and overdrafts hitting more than £1.25 billion. Memories at Whitehall must indeed be short. Didn’t unsustainable, irresponsible lending and borrowing have something to do with the financial crash we’ve just been through, the one which we’ll all be paying for, one way or another, for many years to come?

I’m all for supporting the high street, especially those independent shops that remain - not by spending extra cash but by choosing stores I shop in more wisely in the first place.

n sheena.grant@eadt.co.uk, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, tweet using #ThriftyLiving.

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