SUNDAY IS a special day for the British public.
Although the day of rest had its origins in religion many people with no creed at all greatly value the time they get to spend with their families – or simply to relax away from the pressures of work.
The devolution of Sunday trading powers was a surprise to those of us involved in Greater Manchester’s deal with government.
We hadn’t asked for it and therefore we couldn’t carry out any kind of local consultation about how the power might be used before the announcement came.
With the devolution machine moving quickly the range of powers, responsibilities and the very important fair funding settlement hasn’t been clearly laid out.
The speed and nature of devolution locally has also led many people to ask who is making these decisions and what say do they actually have in it?
Extending Sunday trading opening times has the potential to be contentious even though, by and large, it has not been much of an issue over the last decade.
When council leaders met to discuss the proposed devolution of Sunday trading there wasn’t a big appetite for change, but there was an agreement that the economic case must be clearly demonstrated: as well as taking into account the wide range of views for and against.
This could be a good opportunity for Greater Manchester to show that there is a real difference when powers are devolved away from Whitehall to a more local level.
So what might that difference be?
Well, GM has already begun the process of commissioning independent research to explore the economic case of extended Sunday trading. It would have made sense for this to be a wider review from the outset, but it still isn’t too late to build on this.
There’s a chance the review will simply conclude that there isn’t a compelling economic argument to extend trading hours at all. In which case I suspect the matter won’t go any further.
But there is also a chance, of course, that the review will suggest there are economic benefits and those need to be considered.
The GM difference, however, must be that we fully consider community, society and the rights of workers in this debate. This is not part of the assessment remit so far, but it simply cannot be ignored.
Usdaw, the respected trade union which represents many shopworkers the length and breadth of the country, is keen to make sure that those people working in shops have a voice in the debate too.
They have carried out important surveys which show the strength of feeling of many staff who don’t want to be pressured into working hours which will further impact on family life.
There’s a real opportunity here for Greater Manchester to show that there is a positive difference in how we tackle important issues and decisions like this.
Why don’t we set up a GM Sunday Trading Commission with representation from all of those who are affected by it? By including civil society, religious groups, trade unions and other retailers – like convenience store operators – we would have a much more active and representative debate: and better decision making.
We can’t go on repeating the mistakes already made by a disconnected – and often disinterested – Whitehall.
We can and must show that we will involve all those affected by the decisions we take and will give people a genuine voice in debates like this.
That should be the GM difference.
Thanks for listening,