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Asda Chief Turns Up Heat on U.K. Government Over Sunday Hours

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Andy Clarke, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s U.K. Asda chain, ratcheted up pressure on the government to repeat this year’s extension of Sunday opening hours during an eight-week period of the summer.

Asda would “clearly support” such a move after stores were allowed to open for longer on Sundays around the London Olympics, Clarke said today in an interview at the grocer’s store in Milton Keynes, England. The government indicated at the time that the temporary extension of hours wouldn’t be repeated and has since dismissed calls to allow stores to stay open for longer on Dec. 23, the last Sunday before Christmas.

“We were a bit disappointed” that the Dec. 23 request was rejected, said Clarke, who had called for a relaxation of the restrictions in a letter to Business Minister Michael Fallon that was written jointly with William Morrison Supermarkets Plc CEO Dalton Philips. Customers “continue to tell us they’d like to shop longer on a Sunday than they currently can.”

Stores of more than 3,000 square feet (279 square meters) in England and Wales are restricted to six hours of Sunday opening, though the rule doesn’t apply in Scotland.

This summer’s relaxation of the law for the Olympics received a mixed response from retailers. J Sainsbury Plc CEO Justin King said this year that customers told him they preferred to keep Sunday special with limited shopping hours.

The New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers in London’s busiest shopping district, is due to meet government representatives in mid-January to call for another trial in summer 2013, director Jace Tyrrell said in an interview.

The representative body will request extended hours to “properly measure the benefit of Sunday trading across staff, consumers and profitability,” Tyrrell said. “Now is the time again when we compete globally with international retailers.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Shannon in London at sshannon4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net

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