Counterpoint by Scott Freeman We need a new plan for bank holidays


Three down, six to go. Bank holidays that is. I can’t help but think that these public holidays, scattered illiberally throughout the year are well past their sell-by date and should be scrapped. Controversial, I know, but let me explain.

Forced inside by the traditional Easter Monday weather this week, I read that every bank holiday costs the UK economy £2.3 billion in lost productivity – enough it is claimed to push us back into recession by the time we have raised a glass or two to Her Majesty for her Diamond Jubilee.

I am sufficiently canny to realise that some business bosses would be happy to see this statistic used to bring about a reversal of the Bank Holidays Act, and to force staff to work without entitlement to time off. So hear me out.

The legislation introduced in 1871 first gave workers the rights to four days’ off each year: on Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day, in addition to the church enforced Good Friday and Christmas Day. Such was the celebration among the working classes that the man behind the legislation was hailed a saint. There has been some tinkering since: the moving of August bank holiday to the end of the month in 1965 and the addition of New Year’s Day and May Day in 1971.

But in all honesty is this archaic allocation of public rest-days not due for a rethink? They fall at the wrong time of year, come along like buses – one after the other in quick succession– and if the weather chances to be fine, result in traffic queues and crowded attractions. And let’s not forget the staff at garden centres, supermarkets, pubs and the like who have to work harder than ever serving those of us on an enforced day off.

Would we not all be better off if every worker was entitled to Christmas Day off plus another five days’ holiday – in addition to their existing entitlement – to be taken at dates mutually agreed between employees and employers?

It would stagger the peaks and troughs of demand, allow firms to continue working and recognise that in a modern, diverse society we do not need to be hamstrung by the Christian calendar to the extent we currently are. It makes sense to me.