Retailers join forces to fight proposed bank holiday switch from May to October

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Top DIY and gardening retailers are mobilising to oppose the replacement of the May Day bank holiday in England and Wales with one in October.

Retailers including Home Retail-owned Homebase, Kingfisher-controlled B&Q and Tesco-owned Dobbies fear the change would decimate sales on one of the most important trading weekends of the year.

They are preparing to argue their case to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is consulting on the idea. A bank holiday move is backed by tourism promotion agency Visit Britain, which wants to draw visitors here outside the traditional peak period.

But the May Day bank holiday is estimated to account for as much as 5% of annual garden industry sales by gross value because of its timing as the gardening season gets into full swing, and a move to October would not compensate retailers for sales lost in spring. The garden industry generates retail sales of £5bn a year.

Home Retail corporate affairs director Chris Wermann - who is involved in the retailer opposition which is being run through the Horticultural Trades Association - said the idea was “one-dimensional”.

He said: “Most people want bank holidays when there’s better weather, and I think that’s true from a tourist perspective as well.”

A B&Q spokesman said: “Moving the bank holiday is a bad idea. May is the perfect time for people to start gardening and bank holidays provide the best opportunity for DIY projects in the home.

“We can understand the need to boost tourism but, with twice as much sunshine and half as much rain, the weather is much better in May than in October.”

Horticultural Trades Association policy manager Gary Scroby warned abandonment of the May bank holiday would be disastrous: “It’s the biggest single trading day of the year,” he said.

The retailers would rather that existing bank holiday timings are retained or that an extra bank holiday is timetabled for October.

Retailers also oppose another idea being considered, which would be for the May Day holiday to be replaced with holidays on the saints’ days of the UK’s constituent countries. They believe that would make things unnecessarily complex.

Wermann said: “It would leave UK plc disjointed and effectively take four days out of the calendar rather than one.”

If a change does go ahead it is not expected to take effect until 2013.