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If you didn’t already know, public holidays – as opposed to statutory paid annual leave – are state-mandated paid holidays which usually all but essential public workers take off. There is a technical difference between a “bank holiday” and a “public holiday” in that people aren’t automatically entitled to take a bank holiday off. The difference between them has become blurred though to the point that they mean the same thing, especially in the UK & Ireland.
Public Holidays in the EU
As we’re part of a single market with joint regulations on employment practices, it’s worth comparing the situation in Wales with the European Union as a whole.
Policy on public holidays are decided by each member state, though in those member states which have a federal or quasi-federal constitution – including the UK, Germany and Spain – public holidays are decided at a state/sub-national level.
For example, Scotland (9) and Northern Ireland (10) have more public holidays than EnglandandWales (8), while Bavaria has 13 public holidays compared to the German average of 9.
Greece has the lowest number of official public holidays at a maximum of 6. However, every Sunday is considered a public holiday in Greece and there are additional optional ones. Cyprus has as many as 18 public holidays.
It’s very hard to determine what the average across Europe is because of those sub-national variations, as well as the fact some public holidays are optional and don’t automatically come with a day off work or school/college/university. Overall though, most EU member states have between 10 and 13 public holidays, meaning Wales is below average.
Current Public Holidays in Wales
As mentioned, EnglandandWales share the same public holidays (above). There are 8 official public holidays with extras added whenever a public holiday – particularly Christmas Day – falls on a weekend.
The situation in Scotland is incredibly complicated because many local authorities have their own public holidays. There are 9 official nation-wide public holidays though, including St Andrew’s Day (30th November) which became a public holiday via the Scottish Parliament’s St Andrews Day Bank Holiday Act2007.
Northern Ireland has 10 official public holidays – the ones in EnglandandWales, plus St Patrick’s Day (17thMarch) and the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne (12thJuly).
There have long been calls for St David’s Day (1stMarch) to be a public holiday in Wales – even before devolution – and the National Assembly voted unanimously to make St David’s Day a national holiday in 2000.
However, while the previous Conservative-Lib Dem UK Government discussed the proposal (which would’ve involve moving ne of the May bank holidays to March 1st), they ditched it.
The National Assembly doesn’t, currently, have the power to create new public holidays. Though interestingly, public holidays aren’t included as a reserved power in the draft Wales Bill.I’m going to guess that’s an oversight and it’ll be put back in when the full Bill is introduced as the previous Welsh Secretary blocked the idea.
How much do public holidays cost?
Whenever the issue of new public holidays comes up, you can guarantee there’ll be a talking head from one of the big business organisations, like the CBI, plonked in front of the cameras to tell us what a terrible idea it is because it’ll cost the economy a squillion bazillion pounds.
A study by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) suggested every bank holiday costs the UK economy £2.3billion. A Welsh share – factoring in Welsh economic under-performance compared to the rest of the UK (74% of the UK’s GDP per capita) – would be around £85million. ONS statistics estimated the Royal Wedding bank holiday in 2011 resulted in a 0.1% reduction in GDP, while the Diamond Jubilee bank holiday in 2012 could’ve resulted in a 0.3-0.4% reduction in GDP.
Of course, every bank holiday has a positive economic impact too – people are perhaps more likely to go out socialising two or three times on a weekend if the holiday is on a Monday, they might be more likely to buy DIY equipment, while busier workers might take the opportunity to do some shopping.
They also have a positive impact on wellbeing and national happiness – though this would depend on multiple factors like the usual weather at the time of year and what the bank holiday is for (state funerals in the UK are usually bank holidays).
What are the problems? What can change?
The big problem with the current public holiday calendar is that they’re not spread out particularly well, with a big gap between New Year’s Day and Easter, and another big gap between August and Christmas. We also (inexplicably) have two bank holidays in May – mainly as a legacy of fixing the otherwise moveable Whit Monday on a single date.
The New Year’s-Easter gap can easily be filled in Wales by making St David’s Day a national public holiday, probably by moving the Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May) – so at no extra cost to the economy.
Ideally, important state events (i.e. investitures, award of honours) would be scheduled on or around St David’s Day.
It would probably be worth creating an extra public holiday between August and December, probably the first Monday of November – using the traditional Calan Gaeaf moniker – to mark end of summer time.
Additionally, another public holiday could be created in between the May and August holidays, probably the third Monday of June (when the weather’s traditionally decent) – for sake of argument, calling it Canol Haf/Midsummer.
Glyndwr Day (16thSeptember or closest weekday) could be included as a non-official public holiday/parliamentary holiday. It could be used as a date upon which official openings etc. would take place. If the practice of “privilege days” for civil servants continues post-independence, then it could be counted as one.
Presumably, a Welsh head of state would have the power to declare a bank holiday via statutory instrument, whether that’s due to a national emergency, a national celebration or a national tragedy. This would also include major royal events should Wales retain the monarchy.