In conversation with Tim Leunig… Sunday opening

Welcome to another experiment with our ‘in discussion’ style blog posts, which today features myself and the CentreForum’s Tim Leunig looking at Sunday opening.

Mark: In the recent debate about Sunday opening hours, many people were doubtful that longer opening hours would boost the economy, making comments such as “Would you really buy more things if all the shops were open on Sunday? Or would you buy the same amount of total stuff and just not buy it on one of the other days of the week?”

There are other angles to the debate too, but specifically on the economic impact, what’s your view? Would longer opening hours have an impact on the total amount of consumer spending that happens? Would there be an impact of people spending money more quickly and so its circulation around the economy speeding up?

Tim: Increasing opening hours will not increase spending. Instead, it will spread spending out over a longer period each week. That means that stores can be a little smaller, as fewer people will be in them at any time. That in turn lowers costs a fraction, and makes us all slightly better off.

Mark: That sounds like in practice it would make no difference as the size of shops is not very flexible on the small-scale. Shop units are, in the short and medium term, fairly rigid in size and hard to change. However, if shopping was spread out it would reduce the load on transport system, so is the real issue here not the impact on spending but on transport?

Tim: The biggest gains from almost everything are long term! Shops are more flexible than you think. If a shop needs less space for one item, it can increase the range of items sold, even if it can’t change the size of the shop.

Sundays are typically less busy on the roads, so congestion would fall slightly if more people shop on a Sunday, and fewer on other days, but the effect would be small.

Mark: So from an economic or public services perspective, Sunday opening is not much of a deal one way or the other? In other words, don’t ask an economist for what the policy should be but instead decide on other grounds?

Tim: In the long run there will be small but significant gains, because we can use land and equipment more efficiently.

My support for Sunday opening stems from my personal liberalism. Why should the state ban people from shopping at particular times of the week? Isn’t it odd that the law allows Tesco to deliver my groceries on a Sunday evening, but bans me from picking them up from the store myself?

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire. He is a candidate for Party President.

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18 Comments

  • Straight of the top of my head without thinking:-
    Extra :- Staff, Heating, lighting, air con, support contracts, deliveries.
    Extra cost for essential shop maintenance, IT updates in a compressed time window.
    Who will this effect :- every small shop.
    Who will it not effect :- Supermarkets (they run 24/7 anyway)
    Who has the bigger lobby group?
    Who needs our protection?

  • Liberal Eye 6th Sep '12 - 6:18pm

    Well said Dave W.

    At best the savings Tim points to are tiny – and may not exist at all.

    What we should be talking about is the way that Big Retail has been allowed to evolve into a series of highly anti-competitive oligopolies that substantially increase the cost of living with a particularly damaging impact on those nearest the bread line.

  • Dave W – no-one is forced to open, and many convenience stores open very long hours, despite the costs you mention, because they know that their customers appreciate it.
    Liberal Eye – big supermarkets seem a lot cheaper to me than small shops for the basics. It is those on the breadline who benefit from Asda and Lidl, not those who can afford to go to posh shops.

  • Liberal Eye 7th Sep '12 - 12:03am

    Tim, Small shops are hardly the ‘gold standard’ of retailing. What should concern us is that many supermarkets (and also leaders in non-food sectors) have such incredibly rich gross margins.

    Aldi and Lidl precisely illustrate how much cheaper food could be – around 30% – and they still find it profitable enough to expand their operations. As for small shops they lack economies of scale at every turn – particularly buying – so have to survive by cutting their gross margins to the bone – a competitive pressure the leaders clearly don’t experience in the same way.

    The disparity of power and information between supermarkets on the one hand and Mrs Jones on the other is so immense that retailing cannot be construed in any sense as a fair market, particularly when one factors in the impact of offers many (most?) of which are intended to confuse customers about real value. What was that assumption about rough parity being necessary for a ‘perfect’ market to exist?

  • Kevin Maher 7th Sep '12 - 8:25am

    Can we suspend judgement until we know the results of the extended opening hours on Sundays this Summer. There are plenty of people who are cash rich but time poor, and plenty of tourists who may appreciate the opportunity to be releived of their spending money. If it works for these groups then it should be allowed to continue.

  • Kevin as Tim has alluded to the results are in. Sales were flat or even a little negative during the trial. Baldricks cunning plan to extend opening hours during the Olympics with the expected boost in sales used to justify the continuation of longer trading hours has backfired dramatically. The big retailers are not happy bunnies.

    We now see supporters scuttling about trying to find alternative justifications. Tim is attempting the “Why should the state restrict my ability to shop argument”. If it’s a question of liberal freedoms why can’t I paint my bottom blue and walk naked down the high street masturbating? You have to look at the positive / negative effects on society as a whole? Believe me, in my case those effects could be pretty immense 😉

  • You mean like some over-excited mandrill Dave W?

  • ” If it’s a question of liberal freedoms why can’t I paint my bottom blue and walk naked down the high street masturbating?” If that is the best argument against Sunday trading is to associate it with this sort of thing then frankly I am lost for words!

  • Hi Tim13 – I’ll take the tag “most colourful primate” if you like 🙂 (wiki)

    Tim – My comment was not a defence against Sunday trading. It was to highlight the weakness in your argument for sunday trading. As I stated “You have to look at the positive / negative effects on society as a whole?” This you failed to do in the article and in your reply. Perhaps you can list the advantages to children, the family and society for extending the opening hours.
    WOW i left Tim Leunig lost for words? A mighty feat indeed 🙂

  • No one has mentioned the employees in these shops, or the general trend now that in employment terms any day is the same, no day is special anymore. So no overtime deal for working on the weekend.
    If that is how things are going to be we need fresh employment legislation to enable an employee to designate a day of the week which will be their special day, (whether it is for religious or for family reasons is their private business), that day to remain inviolate, unless the boss is willing to pay double-time.

  • Richard Dean 8th Sep '12 - 12:29pm

    No-one has mentioned the customers either, and the mental and emotional well-being, or the spyschology of de-structuring.time. How about the loss of quality of life for customers? Having nothing open on Sundays tends to force people to rest and be sociable, even religious, which is what Sundays were originally intended for.

  • As a customer I resent having my day impinged upon by having to wait until 10am to do my shopping when it could have been out of the way by 8.00am.

    During the Olympics the local Asda opened at 9am but with one big problem. They only bothered to put on one member of staff on the tills. We we’re queued into the isles. That’s no good! If it didn’t work out for them – that’s why!

    Practically every other business in the country is allowed to trade whenever it wants – there has to be very compelling reasons to make a special case of large grocers – so far none has been put forwarded.

  • I am disappointed that the author of this article seems to have forgotten the “social” aspects of social liberalism. Also the comments by John above that appear to me to be lazy and selfish. As many other contributors have pointed out, there are economic reasons, quality of life issues and “choice” issues involved in this debate:-
    1. There are no strong economic reasons to “deregulate” Sundays. The recent experiment didnt work. Many larger businesses are opposed to it because overall spending by consumers will not increase but costs will. Some large Supermarkets such as Sainsburys and the Co-op are already opposed to it because they know that such a change will not benefit them and will also be detrimental to their staff.
    2. Small to medium size businesses, who are not currently restricted by the Sunday Trading Law would be adversely affected e.g. newsagents, corner shops. Surely we should be supporting the interests of smaller businesses?
    3. Quality of Life: It is imortant that there is some work/life balance in our stressful society. People should have time to spend with their friends and family, for recreation, sport, voluntary work, religious activities or whatever they wish. For many people, Sunday is special for a number of reasons.
    4. Choices? Larger businesses already open for up to 6 hours on a Sunday if they choose to. Many small businesses are open for longer hours ( and some all night in urban areas). The internet is open all day and every day! Many staff e.g. in retail and the care sector, already feel obliged to work some or all Sundays. If there was further deregulation, many staff would feel pressurised to work on Sundays even if they would rather not.
    Not surprising then that many large businesses, small businesses, the Unions, religious organisations, interest groups, community organisations in urban areas and many others are opposed to this idea of “dergulation”.

  • John, as a matter of fact, it is not just “large grocers” who face Sunday opening restrictions – it is all shops over a certain size.

  • There doesn’t need to be an economic reason to deregulate. There needs to be a compelling reason (economic or social) to regulate.

    So far none of sufficient weight has been put forward.

    1) If big supermarkets don’t make any extra money out of it – so what? It’s up to them (or should be) whether they trade. They’ll just have to balance the extra cost of employing more people (shock!) against losing market share to competitors.

    2) Is there evidence that the few hours either side of the allowed Sunday trading period is all that’s keeping corner shops in business? There are plenty of them around here and they are always busy. They offer a different service than supermarkets. I go there to buy odd items or at lunch time or whenever a trek to the supermarket is not warranted. On the other hand, I would never do my main shop there even at 7am on a Sunday morning it’s not worth the extra cost. I’d rather just wait until 10am. How many people who use corner shops on a Sunday morning wouldn’t do if the supermarket was open?

    3) The law already provides that people get at least one day off a week. It’s through those kinds of general laws that we should look to improve work-life balance. Not by arbitrarily insisting that one class of worker is prevented from working Sunday mornings and evenings – something that’s probably ineffective anyway.

    4) This is the same point as 3.

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