Local authorities will be able to temporarily waive the rules restricting retail opening hours to help shop owners recoup sales lost during the coronavirus lockdown. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said he wanted to ensure a “more pleasant and safe shopping experience” for all during the festive season and the New Year.. Current rules state that any retailers wanting to extend their hours beyond 9am to 7pm from Monday to Saturday must apply for special permission. But Mr Jenrick said he wanted to suspend such processes to help business owners after months of Covid-19 restrictions.
The minister said shops should be able to decide their opening hours through December and January, and even have the option of running 24/7 services.
It comes amid fears up to a million jobs could go in a high-street bloodbath after the pandemic ravaged retail, causing a £9billion hit to pre-Christmas sales.
Mr Jenrick said: “None of us entirely enjoy navigating the crowds, especially now when social distancing is so important for controlling the pandemic.
“So with these changes your local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.
“How long will be a choice for shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council. Councils should offer these hard pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.”
The announcement came as England prepares to enter a new round of tiered restrictions once the national lockdown ends on Wednesday.Under the new system, non-essential shops, gyms, beauticians and other personal care services will be allowed to open across the country, marking a relaxation on the pre-lockdown tiers.
Consumer Minister Paul Scully said: “Our number one priority over the Christmas period is to keep the public safe, while ensuring businesses can reopen in a safe and Covid-secure way.
“Extending opening hours for retailers across England will give people more choice about when they can shop, and businesses will have more time to serve their customers safely during the busy festive period.”
The announcement was welcomed by retailers.
Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “With just over 3 weeks until Christmas, shoppers will welcome the additional opportunities to shop that the government’s statement supports.
“Such measures will give more flexibility for shoppers about when and how they shop and we’d encourage everyone to avoid peak times where possible, not leave it all to the last minute and follow all the safety guidelines.”