Sturgeon crisis as business chiefs unite to rebel over threat of SNP trading ban

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Bosses from 13 organisations, including CBI Scotland Tracy Black, Scottish Chambers of Commerce Chief Executive Liz Cameron OBE and Scottish Retail Consortium Director David Lonsdale have jointly written a letter that has been sent to Scottish ministers. The letter has been submitted to Tom Arthur, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Public Finance, Planning & Community Wealth. Today (Tuesday) marks the final day of a consultation over a possible change to the current trading law to prevent large retail businesses from opening on the first day of the new year.

Ms Sturgeon’s Government has been consulting with retail owners and staff after the Usdaw trade union, which represents some 400,000 members in the UK, sent a petition to Parliament urging the change.

The Christmas Day and New Year’s Day Trading (Scotland) Act 2007 currently in place only stops large shops from opening on Christmas Day.

In the letter, the 13 signatories wrote: “We are writing jointly to ask that you reject pleas to implement a permanent legislative prohibition on shops from trading on New Year’s Day.

“Retail has been at the epicentre of the economic storm wrought by Covid. Much of the sector has been shuttered for at least 220 days over the past seventeen months or unable to trade at capacity due to restrictions.

“As restrictions ease it should be down to stores to determine and assess whether there is sufficient customer demand and availability of staff to open on New Year’s Day.

The letter also warned: “Curtailing this through legislation would diminish consumer choice and add to the economic pressures facing retailers, their supply chain, and our town and city centre economies.

“A strong, varied and open retail offering in turn benefits the wider tourism and hospitality sector as well as the recovery.

“The Covid pandemic has been the most challenging period for Scottish industry in decades.

“As the country seeks to rebuild, rejecting a ban would send a strong and positive message that Scotland is open for business and help to promote Scotland as a visitor destination at New Year.”

Mr Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, questioned the “wisdom of banning shops from opening to customers” on January 1.

He warned such a ban would deal a major blow to the Scottish retail industry – just as it attempts to bounce back from the destructive Covid pandemic, which enforced a number of national lockdowns.

The Scottish Retail Consortium director said: “This is an unequivocal message from a formidable cross-section of Scottish industry, voicing serious doubts about the wisdom of banning shops from opening to customers on New Year’s Day.

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“A legislative ban would be putting rocks in the retail industry’s rucksack just as it seeks to recover and climb out from the worst trading period in decades.”

In Usdaw’s response to the consultation, general secretary Paddy Lewis said: “Usdaw members work incredibly hard during the festive period and are exhausted by Christmas Day.

“Many are only able to take one or two days off.

“An additional day off will give retail workers in Scotland the opportunity to rest and recuperate at the end of the busiest time of year.

“Working on New Year’s Day affects retail workers’ family lives, their ability to relax, unwind and enjoy the day.

“Furthermore, retail workers face significant difficulties in being able to work on New Year’s Day as a result of a lack of public transport and childcare provision.

“Usdaw believes that now is the time to enact this legislation and give Scottish retail workers a decent break over New Year.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government insisted the replies to the consultation would be considered “carefully”.

He said: “The Scottish Government has provided more than £3.7billion to help businesses cope with the impact of COVID-19.

“Our retail strategy, city centre recovery taskforce and the £10million Scotland Loves Local Fund will help support our town and city centres and local communities recover.”

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