Time Troubles

As we woke up this morning having once again returned to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) the argument about whether we should shift from this to Central European Time (CET) was once again rearing its head.

The stalking horse for this current push to switch to the time zone used by much of Western Europe is Rebecca Harris, MP for Castle Point and a member of the 2010 Conservative intake, who is championing it as a Private Member’s Bill. As a quick check of her voting record confirms* that she is nothing more than lobby fodder in search of a place on the payroll, it is reasonably safe to say that this bill has had the backing of ministers from the very start.

Firstly some history…

The adoption of a standard time zone in the UK is still a relatively modern idea with GMT only becoming the official time zone of Great Britain in 1880, just a few years before the International Meridian Conference of 1884 established the Greenwich Meridian as 0° longitude.**

British Summer Time (BST) came about in 1916 as part of the amendments to the Defence of the Realm Act and was done originally in an attempt to save fuel (and thus money).

On three occasions since then the UK has moved away from the GMT/BST switch:

  1. During WWII BST remained in force throughout the winter of 1940. This was in the spring of 1941 by an advancement to ‘British Double Summer Time’ or GMT + 2.
  2. The summer of 1947 when, as the result of fuel shortages, the clocks went forward and back twice.
  3. October 1968 to October 1971 when the country stayed on BST rather than reverting to GMT.

And now back to the present…

Harris’ bill opens by saying that it:

Require[s] the Secretary of State to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year; to require the Secretary of State to take certain action in the light of that analysis; and for connected purposes.

One of the first things to note here is that ‘or part of’ is redundant. Thanks to Directive 2000/84/EC we can no longer repeat the Wilson government’s experiment of 1968-70

Article 1
For the purposes of this Directive “summer-time period” shall mean the period of the year during which clocks are put forward by 60 minutes compared with the rest of the year.

Article 2
From 2002 onwards, the summer-time period shall begin, in every Member State, at 1.00 a.m., Greenwich Mean Time, on the last Sunday in March.
Article 3

From 2002 onwards, the summer-time period shall end, in every Member State, at 1.00 a.m., Greenwich Mean Time, on the last Sunday in October.

and as such any change would have to apply all year round.

The body of the bill asks for:

  1. A cost/benefit analysis on switching to CET (we can ignore the request for an assessment on whether the dates on which BST starts and ends are optimal for reasons already stated above) and wants this information published within three months of the passing of the act.
  2. That this analysis is then inspected by an ‘independent’ commission of no more than 12 members plus an item of furniture*** and they must report back within 6 months of appointment.
  3. If the commission concludes that a switch is a good idea then it must be implemented for a trial period of three years. No later than six months before the trial period ends the success (or otherwise) of it must be reviewed and no later three months before it is due to end should the option of making the change permanent be laid before the house.

All of which of course sounds very reasonable.

On Conservative Home this time last year Harris wrote:

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and all the road safety organisations conclude that it will save up to 80 lives from fatal road accidents and prevent many more serious injuries, by adding more daylight to the busier afternoon rush hour. Tourism organisations believe it will increase tourist revenues by as much as £4 billion and create up to 80,000 jobs in the industry, by extending the season and letting attractions stay open an hour longer every day. Environmentalists like Lighter Later and Green Peace say that less use of electric light during the evening peak time will not only reduce energy bills but also help us meet our carbon emission targets.

That really is checking boxes, isn’t it? Fewer deaths, more jobs, environmental benefits, lower energy bills… it truly sounds like a modern miracle!

Lets think about them more closely shall we?

The 80 avoidable deaths is remarkably concise and, going by the 2010 figure of 1,857 deaths, would mean a reduction of over 4%. Sounds good then but what I couldn’t see from a brief scan of the RoSPA website was when this calculation was made and with which year’s road death stats; how the figure was reached, let alone what the margin or error is; and if this is the balance (or not) between extra deaths in the morning and fewer in the evening. If anyone can point me in the direction of answers to these questions I would be grateful.

An extra 80,000 jobs? Attractions open longer? Really? We aren’t increasing the length of the day, just altering which hours are daylight and which aren’t. Ergo tourist attractions, bars and restaurants aren’t necessarily going to be open longer hours and thus won’t be employing more people. Even if they extend their opening hours, I would expect the first course of action would be to have existing employees to cover the extra hours.

It is her final point, the environmental one, which I suspect will carry more weight – depending on how they spin it. If they go for the cost argument, i.e. potentially lower energy bills, then there is plenty of scope for self-interest given the direction of travel of energy bills in this country (one factor in this being the inclusion of green taxes to subsidise otherwise unviable schemes). A cynical person might also wonder if it is simply a cunning plan to extend the life of various plants through reduced usage and thus less yearly emissions?

In the end though this argument boils down to which hours of the day do we wish to see sunlight.

Being London centric for a moment, on the longest day of the year sunrise is shortly before 0445 and sunset shortly after 2120. On the shortest day it rises at shortly before 0805 and sets shortly before 1555. During August, supposedly the height of summer****, sunrise changes from approximately 0525 to 0610 with sunset changing from approximately 2050 to 1950

Move those times forward a hour makes little difference to anyone in the middle of June unless they are early risers but for the best part of a month (mid December to mid January) we’ll have sunrise not occurring until after the working day is generally considered to have started and sunset occurring just before it theoretically ends.*****

Going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark? Been there, done that****** and it isn’t fun. I’ll take the earlier sunrise during the winter months and the bit of sunshine that I get with it before I arrive in the office to lighter evenings throughout the year. And as for waking up in May and finding it is still dark outside? Thanks but no thanks!

For me this seems to be a case of once again trying to fix something which isn’t broken and as such I can’t see the point of it.

* I use ‘confirms’ rather ‘reveals’ because she is my parent’s MP and via them (mother a member of the local association, both of them friends with most of the association’s leading members) I am well aware of how much she sucks up to iDave. Final confirmation (as if it was needed) came when I saw her name on the list of those who opposed the backbench motion for a referendum on the EU.

** The French, being French wanted it to be Paris but they lost the vote. It then took them 17 years finally admit defeat. This is probably close to being a national record for them.

*** “The Commission shall consist of a Chair and no more than 12 other members appointed by the Secretary of State.” This government really is committed to equal opportunities!

**** Recent years to the contrary.

***** I can’t recall ever being out of the office at 1700.

****** A temp job in a plastics moulding factory. 12 hour days from 0700 to 1900 for £4/hour. I lasted 2 days.


  1. Demelza says:

    If I want to deal directly with someone on the West coast of the USA, I can get a little overlap at the very end of the working day just as they start work. I get a little more overlap with the East coast, but it is still limited. If we advance the clocks by an hour, I will only ever be able to talk to the West Coast after hours.

    Perhaps this only affects those of us who work in technology?

    • Misanthrope Girl says:

      I expect that plenty of people working for multi-national companies or who do business with companies in various parts of the world are affected in one way or another by all the clock altering that goes on. Our head office is in the Central Standard Time (CST) zone and whilst they are usually 6 hours behind us, for about a month a year (including this next week) it is 5 due to the differing times when the clocks change. It does, at times, cause a degree of confusion.

      Dad used to do a lot of business with offices in the far east (Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand amongst others) and for 15 years, as well as making calls, was in the region for at least 2 months of the year (two 3 week trips, various shorter ones).

  2. jameshigham says:

    For the first time, I was bamboozled by the time thingy – so many clocks and timers to change and the times within those timers. Hope you did better.

  3. Being terribly niave, couldn’t all of these benefits be gained by simply letting businesses adjust their working hours to best suit them? So attractions that want to open when there’s the most sun could have seasonal hours to be open during day light or is there some legislation we’re not yet aware of which will mandate that everything opens 9 till 5 or such like?

    Always puzzled me why the clocks changing was portrayed as affecting farmers so much when as I gather on the whole they’re self employed so can set their own hours (and for dealing with shops banks etc that’s usually during the middle of the day so makes no odds)

    • Misanthrope Girl says:

      Pubs, clubs, restaurants and tourist attractions generally already open (subject to any government imposed restrictions) for the times when they think they can get people though the doors. For tourist attractions this does sometimes mean shorter hours (or even closed) during the winter and longer hours during the summer to take advantage of the daylight hours. All shifting the clocks will mean is shifting opening hours, not longer ones.