Government's shopping plan requires boost in bus services and security, MPs warn

Danielle Sheridan
Robert Jenrick hopes to get shoppers back to the high street with longer trading hours -  Joe Giddens
Robert Jenrick hopes to get shoppers back to the high street with longer trading hours - Joe Giddens

The government’s round the clock shopping plan will require a boost in bus services and increased police and security, MPs have warned.

On Monday The Daily Telegraph revealed that Robert Jenrick, the Local Government Secretary, wanted to relax rules in order to prolong shopping hours. 

It is understood that industry bodies have cautioned that the "right infrastructure", such as ensuring trains and buses outside of London are running increased services, will need to be in place in order to facilitate these new plans.

Meanwhile Bob Blackman, Tory MP for Harrow East who sits on the Local Government Select Committee, warned "there are all sorts of problems around this that are yet to be resolved".

"You have the issue of staff and if they will be required to work anti social hours," he said.

"People work in retail because it's a settled lifestyle," Mr Blackman said, as he cautioned he was not sure staff would be willing to suddenly work anti social hours. 

"Then you have the security problem as well because if a shop is open they have to have safety measures from shoplifting and other robberies which is a concern," he added.

"I am also not sure people are going to want to travel to shops on public transport when they are so used to shopping online."

Meanwhile Richard Burge, Chief Executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, cautioned that retailers would need to be assured that it was cost effective before extending their hours.

He said: “I’m sure that many retailers would welcome the chance to trade for longer during December and January.  But others will likely need to see whether this leads to increased footfall locally, as there is of course extra cost associated with longer opening.”

Mr Burge added that as well as high streets, longer trading hours could provide “an opportunity to safely return footfall and related trade to central London and its public transport network”. 

Under the new rules retailers will be able to extend their daily opening hours from Monday to Saturday in the run up to Christmas and through January. 

From Wednesday 2 December planning rules limiting opening hours will be eased to allow shops to be open for longer.

Mr Jenrick said how long shops chose to open would 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,” he said.

However Dr Liam Fox, MP for North Somerset and former international trade secretary, said the government’s plans to extend christmas shopping hours was “too late” in the day. 

“By that time, that close to Christmas, people will have already moved online,” he said.

“By the end of this afternoon I will have finished my shopping, all done online.” 

Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, agreed that traders now had a “small window to salvage pre-Christmas sales”. 

She said the council would work with them to ensure they can offer late night and extended hours. 

“Alongside extended hours, we are extending our al fresco dining scheme for another six months along with safety provisions like extra pavement space,” she added.