Belfast Telegraph

Bloated Christnas break is anchor on economy

Editor's Viewpoint

The estimated cost of the closedown of industry in Northern Ireland during the Christmas holidays at £100m is a significant hole in the local economy.

As economist John Simpson asks, is it really necessary for a 10-day break - six of them normal working days?

These long holidays date from more prosperous times when Northern Ireland was a manufacturing powerhouse, but those days are long gone and world trade has got ever more competitive.

Another reason for the bloated holidays is the size of the public sector, which always has enjoyed enviable terms and conditions compared to the private sector.

Of course the emergency services and the retail and hospitality sectors will look on with real envy at those enjoying the extended Christmas break as this is traditionally the revenue-boosting period for both sectors and emergencies happen every day of the year, as tragically underscored this Christmas.

Mr Simpson comes up with an innovative idea in suggesting the removal of the New Year holiday and its replacement with one later in the year, when it would be possible to stagger staff rotas to keep businesses running.

But, as our story today reveals, shortening the holidays over Christmas would present a dilemma for some micro businesses, often comprising of simply the owners, who welcome having a complete break from producing their goods.

That may work well for those businesses whose customers are within the UK or the Republic of Ireland and which follow a similar working pattern, but post-Brexit manufacturers will have to adapt to the more competitive working environments demanded from potential customers in America or China, for example.

The simple fact is that if local companies cannot deliver to those customers' demands then they will not get the business.

Not only will they have to work longer hours but also across different time zones, which will place additional demands on them.

It is clear that Northern Ireland has an under-performing private sector - although there are several world class businesses based here - and that it will need to up its game in the coming years.

That could mean, among other things, shortening holidays, or at least ensuring production is not halted unduly.

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