Why bank holidays are out-dated and holding us back – Stephen Jardine

Local holidays damage the economy and mean we all end up trying to do the same things at the same time. Should they be abolished in a major reform of working practices that gives us more time off, wonders Stephen Jardine.
A sunny bank holiday means Portobello Beach is mobbed (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)A sunny bank holiday means Portobello Beach is mobbed (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
A sunny bank holiday means Portobello Beach is mobbed (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

The queue at the bus stop was longer than usual. And a bit grumpier. That was because the buses were on a Saturday service even though it was a Monday.

If you are following this so far, well done. It is about to get really complicated. On the third Monday in September, Edinburgh has a Public Holiday. Not a Bank Holiday. In the rest of Scotland, the holiday is next Monday. Except the Borders, who take the second Monday in October. Oh, and Fife which waits until the third Monday in October.

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The labyrinthian web of our public and bank holidays is hard enough for mere locals to decipher. What chance have you got if you are an overseas business trying to work out why no one answers the phones or emails in parts of Scotland on certain peculiar days?

These odd throwbacks to the past date from the days when mandatory closures were the only way to give rest and respite to the mass of the workers. If the banks and great institutions of Government were closed then no work could be done and nothing could happen. It really was that simple.

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Nowadays nobody actually notices anymore. Online banking has made Bank Holidays obsolete and unless you physically need to visit a local authority office on a specific day, the closed sign will probably pass you by.

School closures are the one manifestation most likely to impact the general public but families will just put it down to the ongoing drama that is being a working parent when your child is going through education.

And as for those who don’t work for central or local government, well it is just another working day. With economic growth forecasts downgraded under the shadow of Brexit, an enforced shutdown is the last thing most businesses need or can afford.

So who benefits? On every bank and public holiday we all try to do the same things. If it is sunny, Portobello Beach is packed and the main roads are jammed with people trying to get out of town. If it is wet, we are stuck inside trying to fix wonky shelves and catch up on Game of Thrones.

In the joined-up, technologically advanced society of 2019 with business and communication happening around the world rather than just with someone down the road, is this really the best way to deliver leisure time?

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The answer isn’t less holidays. It’s a well-known fact that we work the longest hours in Europe but still lag behind the continent when it comes to productivity. Could part of the answer be our rigid adherence to set date holidays?

Increasingly we are seeing companies finding creative ways to be modern employers. Last week it was reported some firms are now allowing staff to set their own wages in consultation with colleagues. Others are switching to a four-day week or nine-day fortnight in a bid to deliver the elusive work-life balance.

Surely the way forward for us all is a statutory increase in the amount of holidays for every person in this land but for us to use them as and when we want. As society changes, our approach to holidays also has to alter, otherwise the past risks holding back our future.