Tuesday 10 November 2015

Keep the dinosaurs shut - if you want real competition

As always, when an issue looms large in the House of Commons, the divisions are about the respective claims of capital and labour - though both now seem to be against the government's proposals to relax the Sunday trading laws.

The news that the SNP is going to oppose this opens the possibility that the proposals may be defeated. I'm a localist so there is something to be said for the idea of setting the opening hours locally. But there is still a major reason why large stores should not in fact open for more than six hours on a Sunday.

It comes back to the big, primarily Liberal, question of how we might stitch together a set of policies that are, above all else, pro-enterprise.

Then we have to ask whether letting the big stores open on Sunday, and undermining the slim advantage that small stores have for one day only, would support entrepreneurs or not?

Would it promote competition or not?

Would it promote choice or not, over the medium-term?

The answer to all three questions is: no. In fact, it would actively frustrate competition by embedding the privileges of the big retailers (and don't forget that Tesco, for example, insists that it should pay its suppliers after three months, providing itself with an interest-free loan equal to two months's stock).

No, if we want to encourage challenge from below, and on the high street, then we need to keep the dinosaurs shut.

It is a paradox, but we have designated Sundays as a day when challengers and entrepreneurs can compete on equal terms, and it should stay that way.

There is the usual fatuous research, that is so often commissioned by government departments, showing how much extra revenue would be generated by ending Sunday's differences. But they never seem to evaluate how much is simply moved from elsewhere, or how much is lost by driving the challenging minnows out of business.

Nor can we really believe all this rhetoric about saving the high street. This proposal is about saving the out-of-town shopping centres, and - if the USA is anything to go by - they are the next white elephants to go. So goodbye Bluewater. I'm sorry I never visited...

AND! My ebook Jerusalem: England's National Anthem  is on special offer for 99p this week. There is also a conventional print version here

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