One council in North Wales has taken the bold step to overrule a government decision and grant its workers an additional day’s leave to mark Wales’ national day, potentially setting a precedent for greater local decision-making around staff schedules.
Staff at Gwynedd Council will be granted an additional ‘bank holiday’ on March 1, 2022, to mark St David’s Day, despite a request to devolve the power to grant bank holidays to the Welsh Government being turned down by the UK Government.
Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet Member for Corporate Support, Councillor Nia Wyn Jeffreys, described the authority’s actions as “bypassing Westminster and just doing it for ourselves”, an approach she hoped would encourage other councils, public bodies and social enterprises to follow suit on a range of issues.
For the authority, one of the driving factors behind its move was that it had found itself passing a council motion unanimously yet was not able to action the local change it had voted through.
As Councillor Jeffreys explains: “It was passed unanimously at the council meeting, which in local government rarely happens. So that was a strong message that the whole council wanted to make this happen.
“[Having our motion declined] was just disappointing.”
In the case of Gwynedd Council, the issue at hand was around providing staff an additional bank holiday for St David’s Day.
Unlike Scotland, where the allocation of bank holidays is a devolved matter, Wales does not have the power to set their own official bank holidays.
After the motion was passed, the Chair of Gwynedd Council, Councillor Simon Glyn wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng in November regarding the council’s motion.
However, despite the council’s support, their proposal was rejected by the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, Paul Scully, in a letter to the council outlining the reasons for doing so.
Acknowledging that the people of Wales want to celebrate their patron saint, his letter focused on two arguments against devolving bank holidays to the Welsh Government.
Mr Scully argued that with a greater number of people working across the English/Welsh border, compared to the English/Scottish border, this meant that an additional day off could cause ‘greater business disruption’.
While acknowledging that an additional bank holiday may benefit some communities and sectors, he said the cost to the economy remained ‘considerable’, pointing to the £1.2bn cost to the UK economy in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee bank holiday.
But, with the council pushing ahead with their plans, how will a St David’s Day bank holiday work for Gwynedd’s 5,000 council staff and will all be given a day off?
The majority will, as long as they work under local government terms and conditions, while teachers will not, due to their contracts being decided on a pan-Wales basis.
As the terms and conditions of teaching and classroom assistants are decided locally by the council, they will get an extra day’s leave in lieu or pay, but not on March 1 as it falls during term time.
Recognising the hard work of council staff over the past couple of years, Councillor Jeffreys said that an extra day off is an extra thank you for all that they have done during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other authorities have already started to follow Gwynedd Council’s actions, with plans for a St David’s Day bank holiday being considered by Neath Port Talbot Council, while Caerphilly Council will lobby the UK and Welsh governments for one.
This decision in North Wales could have ramifications not just across Wales but across the whole of the UK, with more councils feeling buoyed to make decisions on ‘traditionally’ reserved powers to benefit their local areas, both socially and economically.
Now the question will be whether, emboldened by their decision to keep decision-making local to the Gwynedd area, there are other council decisions which might be better suited being resolved closer to the council chambers than at a national level.