Trade bodies have slammed Government plans to give towns and cities the power to remove Sunday trading regulations, warning the move will threaten the retailers’ livelihoods.

The proposal expected in Wednesday’s Budget could give elected mayors and councils powers to relax laws locally and allow shops to stay open longer if it might boost economic activity.

But Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Giving local authorities the responsibility for setting Sunday trading hours will lead to inconsistency and confusion for businesses and shoppers. 

“In areas where large stores’ trading hours are extended, we will simply see the same amount of trade spread over more hours and shifting from small stores to large stores, as was the case when the laws were suspended for the  2012 London Olympics, when overall retail sales actually fell.

“Existing Sunday trading laws are a popular compromise that balance the needs of consumers, shop workers, small stores and families. 

“Over three-quarters of people like the laws as they are, and fewer than one in ten people want to see longer Sunday opening hours. The short period of time that small stores are open while large stores are shut is a crucial advantage for convenience stores, most of which are owned by small businesses.  Liberalising Sunday trading hours would make some small stores unviable.”

James Bielby, chief executive at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, said the planned move would take trade away from independent shops that serve local communities.

“This is a baffling move by the Chancellor, one which was not mentioned anywhere during the election campaign,” he said. “There is no compelling evidence to suggest that sales will increase if larger shops are open longer, and even the supermarkets are unconvinced of the value of longer hours. Simply spreading consumer spend over a longer period adds cost to businesses with little extra benefit, but it punishes the smallest operators who have previously had this tiny advantage over the national chains.”

He added: “Like the wholesalers who supply them, independent shops offer variety and individuality on the high street, and play a role in our cultural heritage. Those few extra hours a week where smaller stores can trade without competition from megastores have been a good compromise, and one that the public supports. The current law supports entrepreneurs who start and grow local businesses and allowing local authorities to remove this would penalise those ambitious business owners.”