Saturday, 5 February 2011

Bank Holidays, Public Holidays : Memo to Vince Cable

To: The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills
From: Someone Self - Employed

I have been thinking about the letter your Correspondence Unit (CU) sent me on 27 January 2011 (ref JW230099) in response to my email of 5 December.

A few points occur to me:

(1) "There is no statutory entitlement to time off for bank holidays" your CU writes. So the dates of bank holidays announced by your department [ that's right, isn't it?] are advisory. They advise employers when to shut down. This sounds like a thoroughly bad idea. The public sector follows your advice and the service sector doesn't. Employees don't get a look in. This is a pity, especially as you have chosen such an ill-assorted set of dates - most when it is likely to rain - on which to advise employers to shut up shop.

(2) My local hospital A and E department is open 24/7 and 365/365. Everyone expects that to be the case. It doesn't mean that A and E workers are on duty 24/7 and 365/365. They work shifts and rotas, and take time off in turn. Would it not be a good idea to treat this as the norm for any large organisation? Would it not be better for BIS if you expected employers to think in terms of justifying deviations from this norm rather than see it as an exceptional case?

I am sure that Tesco would sign up for 24/7, 365/365 but you would have a lot more difficulty persuading GP surgeries or local government refuse collection departments. This is becaue of the culture which government has created in which public sector organisations start from the assumption that they should normally be closed and only grudgingly open.

(3) I am all in favour of people celebrating things. They manage to do this on November 5th, when there is no bank holiday, and likewise on other days which matter to them. If the government wants to encourage certain celebrations, why doesn't it simply name the days and recommend the dates rather than try to shut down business at the same time?

(4) I am quite sure most people will want to select December 25th as one of their holiday days and a sensible employer will close on that day in response to that popular demand. (That is one of the lessons of A Christmas Carol). But very,very few people care about Good Friday and Easter Monday, especially when they fall in March, and it seems strange that you persist in encouraging those shut downs.

(5) There is a purely economic issue which your colleague at the Treasury might like to think about. Bank holiday shut downs generate numerous inefficiencies and additional costs. Frustrated drivers in traffic jams cause accidents and additional demands on the emergency services. Refuse collection collapses and workers have to be bribed with double or treble time to catch up the backlog. Because British culture is about getting pissed on any excuse, public holidays are followed by workers returning to the office with a hangover. I suspect all these costs ( and there are many more) take a considerable economic toll. Have you thought of costing them, I wonder? or is this one for the Treasury?

Keep up the good work!

PS: On Google, the phrase "Bank holiday washout" currently returns over 21,000 results. The score varies seasonally. Check again in the Spring.

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