Retail chiefs have insisted any move to ban larger stores from opening for business on New Year’s Day is “frankly absurd”.
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) hit out as the ministers announced they were consulting on whether to change the law on January 1 opening.
Larger shops are already barred from opening on Christmas Day, and after a petition was submitted to Holyrood, the Scottish Government is consulting on the issue.
Unions welcomed the move, with Usdaw, which represents many shopworkers, calling for the change to be brought in before January 2022 if possible.
Depending on the outcome of the consultation, the Scottish Government could make an order under the Christmas and New Year’s Day Trading (Scotland) Act 2007 to stop stores with 280 square metres or more of floor space from trading on January 1.
But with the retail sector having been hit hard by coronavirus restrictions, SRC director, David Lonsdale, said: “Shopper footfall is down a quarter, shop vacancies are at a six-year high, and Scottish retailers have lost out on over £4 billion of retail sales over the past 15 months due to the pandemic and associated lockdowns and restrictions.
“The Government’s focus should be on kick-starting recovery, not closing shops.”
He added: “The majority of Scotland’s stores have been compelled to close for at least 220 days during the past 15 months. That figure is even higher for shops located in shopping centres or in west central Scotland who were required to close for a further three weeks last November.
“Against this backdrop, it’s frankly absurd that Scottish Ministers could even countenance the introduction of a fresh legislative ban to stop shops from trading.
“Where there is demand from customers and availability of staff, then, shops – like other sectors – ought to be free to choose to open on New Year’s Day if they so wish.
“Banning trading permanently on Ne’er Day is illiberal and short-sighted considering customers can already shop online whenever they choose.
“It is also odd that shops are being uniquely singled out and at risk of being shackled with these curbs whilst other consumer-facing businesses such as hotels, restaurants, pubs, petrol stations, and cinemas can carry on.”
Launching the consultation, which runs until August 24, public finance minister Tom Arthur, said: “The last year has shown how much we all rely on retailers and their staff who have supported the country during the pandemic.
“As we look at recovery and building a sustainable economy we need to consider what will support businesses and their staff in the future.”
He added: “Following a petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee calling for trading to be banned on New Year’s Day, the Scottish Government has been engaging with business groups, trades unions and others to understand what impact this would have on business and staff.
“This consultation will help us to determine whether the current law should change and restrict large retailers from trading on New Year’s Day, as they currently do on Christmas Day.”
Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw regional secretary for Scotland, said the consultation was a “step forward in our campaign to get a proper break for shop workers over the festive period”.
She added: “If we can secure a positive outcome, Usdaw will be calling for the necessary legislative processes to be completed in time for January 1 2022.”