As all of us set our clocks back today a far bigger change to time in Britain is being planned in Westminster. The government, or at least some sections of it, seem keen to move British clocks forward by one hour, leaving us with Central European Time (CET) as opposed to the traditional GMT, and are planning a three year trial period to see how it works. While the SNP administration in Scotland has threatened to effectively veto any such move, it is still worrying that the British government is even contemplating such a crazy idea.
On the face of it everything makes sense; there would be longer evenings with more boosts to public health, road safety and the economy. Sadly, all of these arguments fall down under close examination. The most obvious problem (and the one that has so irked the Scottish government) is the later sunrises that any such change would bring. In some parts of northern Scotland in winter it wouldn’t be light until nearly 10 o’clock, while even Manchester would have to wait until just before 9 to see the sun. Not too much of a problem in well-light urban areas, perhaps, but nothing short of absurd in rural, isolated towns and villages.
Furthermore, it would seem to destroy the credibility of the claim by those who support the move, such as the Conservative MP Rebecca Harris who’s tabled a private member’s bill on the issue, that it would save up to 80 lives a year from road accidents. Of course, there are less accidents in the light, but any benefits from lighter evenings will surely be demolished by darker mornings, when just as many vehicles are on the roads. Indeed, in some parts of Britain when year-round BST was trialled in 1968-71.
The idea that moving the clocks forward would save on energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to any great extent is similarly ridiculous. It is quite obvious that almost all energy saved (a few weeks in summer may be exceptions) in the evenings will be used in the mornings when more light will be needed! Exactly the same can be said of suggestions that lighter evenings will boost public health by encouraging exercise; while true that more people could, for instance, go for a run after work, less will be able to do anything in the morning or commute on foot or by bike. If anything changing Britain’s timezone would only have a minor effect.
Most derisible of all, though, is the claim that longer, lighter evenings would help the economy. I fail to see how this can be true. The case seems to be based on a rather strange idea that marginally longer evenings would provide a huge boost to British tourism, which while at least coherent compared to the other claims made by supporters, hardly seems great enough to justify the change, especially when at least one other sector, farming, would be badly hit by the dark mornings. Whatever economic benefit there would be is small and dubious, and may well be outweighed by the adjustments that would have to be made by the timezone change.
The real point about changing Britain’s time, though, is that is just irrelevant. I doubt one person in this country (with the possible exception of Rebecca Harris herself) wakes up thinking “If we could just move the light now to later in the evening…”. No one cares, and until they do, there seems little point in making a change with minimal benefits, and the possibility of negative effects.