The Terms of Trade

Sunday trading – set to feature in today’s Budget – is one of those political issues that can leave you between a rock and a hard place.

There are bad, paternalistic reasons to want to restrict it. One of these is that ‘people do not need to shop on Sundays’. To which the answer is: it is not up to the Government to tell me when it is in my best interests to go shopping.

There are also bad, protectionist reasons to restrict it. ‘Small businesses will find it difficult’ is one of these. To which is the answer is: the aim of Government policy is not to convenience businesses at the inconvenience of consumers. (In fact, some argue it will actually help high street businesses compete against online retailers).

But there are good reasons to worry about Sunday trading too. As trade unions argue, people deserve a day off. Or as conservatives (small and big ‘c’) might put it, people need time to spend with their families.

So the choice is often framed between overbearing government that inconveniences consumers and overbearing employers who may force employees to work on Sundays.

But isn’t there another option? Can’t we have the shops open on Sundays and make sure employees have enough power to say ‘no’ to shifts they don’t want?