Daylight saving: time to join Europe?

Date: 07-10-2015

Tagged as: ArticleGameplanEnergy and Resources

 

As we get ready to move the clocks back, the debate around whether we should move to Central European Time continues to simmer. Dr Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute and Angus MacNeil MP debate the pros and cons of aligning our clocks with most of Central and Western Europe.

About the author

Dr Mayer Hillman is Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute and author of a report entitled: ‘Time for Change: Setting Clocks Forward by One Hour Throughout the Year’.

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Angus MacNeil is the SNP Member of Parliament and has represented parliamentary opinion on behalf of the SNP in opposition to a move to Central European Time.

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Dr Mayer Hillman describes the British Isles as effectively a ‘time island’ – an unhelpful situation in a global economy. He’s a vocal advocate of aligning the UK to Central European Time (CET) by switching to what has become known as Single/Double Summer Time (SDST), so that the sun would set one hour later every day of the year. Of course, the sun would rise an hour later in the mornings, but in practice this would only affect the population in the winter months.

Proponents of change believe benefits would include significantly more leisure time in daylight, fewer road casualties and more time overlap with European and Asian markets Opponents, such as Angus MacNeil MP, argue that change is unnecessary, inefficient and ultimately dangerous, as darker mornings could present a safety risk for commutes and school runs, especially in the north.

In this Q&A, we talk to Mayer Hillman (MH) and Angus MacNeil (AM) to explore the potential impact of the change.

Q. How would a move to SDST affect British businesses?

MH: Being in the same time zone as most of continental Europe would make trade, travel and communications easier – that helps every industry and every company with cross-border dealings. Tourists would certainly gain as they would be able to enjoy an extra hour of daylight in the evenings. My research shows there could be an increase of about 4% in tourist revenue if the clocks were put one hour ahead of their current setting.1

The leisure industry would also gain. Outdoor sports often have to stop when it gets dark, which is why organisations like the FA support the change.2 Dusk acts as a curfew on two particular groups: children and the elderly, preventing them from attending activities and contributing to the rising level of childhood obesity. The clock change would result in significantly more ‘usable’ hours of daylight for leisure.

AM: If time zone alignment is the argument for SDST, then why not match the US or Japan? Why not just put the whole world on the same time zone? The reality is that the US has four time zones and copes because they are smart enough to realise that human beings have lifestyles that don’t always coincide with the objectives of money market traders. With different time zones, people in different areas can do different tasks at different times, working when others are asleep at night. This is a global business community, on global ‘shifts’.

When it comes to tourism, fluctuations are more a function of temperature than daylight. Visitor numbers reduce in winter because it is colder and, if any group of people can get up an hour earlier to take advantage of the entirety of the daylight, it is surely those on holiday without obligation to an employer or anybody else.

Q. Is the potential for energy-saving a factor in the case for change?

AM: No. An experiment in Indiana showed that countries that changed to Daylight Saving Time, bringing darker mornings, used more energy than those who didn’t.3 Also, evidence from the Building Research Establishment indicates that darker mornings might actually lead to increased electricity consumption, as people who switch the lights on in the morning may leave them on for the rest of the day, for example.4 That rationale would apply in homes and businesses.

MH: My research5 shows that, overall, change to the SDST clock would bring cost savings for businesses and households. Lighting demand in offices and public buildings alone could be reduced by about a third.

Q. Previous attempts to change the status quo have failed. Why?

AM: A three-year trial of year-round BST ended in the 1970s after a decisive parliamentary vote of 366 MPs to 81. And it wasn’t just Scottish MPs that voted to change back because the entire country was scunnered. This isn’t just an issue for Scotland – if we made the change, there will be periods when you won’t have sunrise before 9am anywhere north of Manchester.

However, one of the most striking results of that experiment was the number of road casualties in Scotland. The statistics in the mid- to late-1960s show numbers falling before and during the trial - but falling more steeply after it. I would argue, therefore, that the trial actually delayed the downward glide of road fatalities.

MH: When all the evidence came out on the three-year trial from 1968 it did reveal an increase in casualties on the roads in the morning, but there was also a much more substantial decrease in the latter part of the day.6

Also, at the time objections were made by farmers, construction workers and postal workers, but industry today is less affected by the later hour of sunrise. For example, we don’t have postal deliveries first thing in the morning, the construction industry has access to solutions like floodlighting and additives to prevent concrete freezing, and farmers can much more easily refrigerate dairy products and don’t have the same need to milk cows early in the morning. Times have changed. Industry has changed.

A lot of Scottish objection is perhaps around the misplaced concern that Scotland would suffer just to allow people in the South of England to play golf for longer! My research indicates that, on balance, the benefits to all regions of the UK would more than compensate for any downsides. Indeed, lighter evenings would bring Scottish businesses and communities even greater benefits than those enjoyed in the rest of the UK, particularly by boosting tourism.

Q. Is change likely?

MH: Change is simply a matter of time. Any government that takes up SDST will reap huge political rewards in terms of public commendation. The only observation likely to be made afterwards is: think what we have been missing all these years – and at no cost to the Exchequer!

AM: I don’t think it’s realistic at all. If there were a trial, however, I would prefer to sign up for one year rather than three, so that we review it fairly quickly rather than going through the misery that was apparent in the 1970s.

Join the debate:

Two clearly opposing views: but what’s your opinion? How would a shift to SDST affect your business? Share your thoughts on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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