Could the UK live with two different time zones?

Ruth Doherty

Hate those days in winter when it's dark when you get up - and when you go home? Well, plans to change UK time to boost tourism could see darker mornings and lighter evenings, meaning heading home would be a lot more pleasant.

Moving the UK's clocks forward has always been controversial. And now the government's new tourism strategy, due out in the next few weeks, is expected to bring back the controversy with a vengence.

It would see British Summer Time (BST) maintained during the winter months and "double summertime" applied during summer months, putting the UK one hour ahead of GMT during winter and two hours ahead during summer.

In other words, clocks would move forward by an hour from GMT in the winter and a further hour in the summer, to match Central European Time, meaning lighter nights but darker mornings.

MP Rebecca Harris is championing such changes in the Daylight Saving Bill in parliament. She says the move would allow an extra 235 hours of daylight after work every year and deliver benefits including 100 fewer deaths from road accidents annually.

It would also purportedly save £200m a year for the NHS because of fewer casualties on the roads, boost British tourism revenue by £3.5bn and reduce carbon dioxide emissions through people leaving lights and heating off, it is claimed.

But what are the logistical implications of changing the clocks?

For years the case in favour of changing the clocks has struggled because of Scotland. If it was introduced, some of the northern-most areas would not see daylight until 10am during the winter months. Opponents argue this would increase accidents, especially for children walking to school, and make farmers' lives harder.

So could Scotland have a different time zone? The list of objections include the havoc it would cause to travel timetables and the UK-wide TV schedule. And what if you worked in one nation and lived in the other?

But Russia and other large countries survive with multiple time zones. In the US some states operate on different times. The southern part of Idaho is an hour in front of the northern part. People learn to factor in the difference and eventually it becomes automatic. Travel timetables are always shown in local time and when meetings are arranged - for work or pleasure - people add "your time" or "my time" to clarify.

However, if PM David Cameron gets his way, there will be no change. He says he is determined to keep Britain a "united time zone". Alasdair Allan, SNP MSP for the Western Isles in Scotland, is also against the idea because it would alienate Scotland and make commutes across the border difficult.

But when it comes to tourism, there's strong arguments for changing the clocks. The extra hours of afternoon daylight will boost tourism revenue to the tune of £3.5bn in the UK and generate around 8,000 new jobs, according to a 2008 PSI report on the issue.

For companies dealing with clients abroad, moving in line with other European countries has obvious benefits. A report done by the Greater London Authority said changing the clocks would provide 40% more business time overlap with the continent for businesses in the City and enable people to attend morning meetings in Europe without staying overnight. This also applies to many businesses outside London.

"It's barmy that a great trading city like London is so out of kilter with the rest of Europe," says London Mayor Boris Johnson.

It would also provide more working time in the morning for trading with Asian markets.

But pushing the UK an hour eastwards would narrow the opportunity to speak to companies in the US, especially the West Coast, which would be nine or 10 hours behind the UK.

Much of Scotland's trade is also with Europe and is worth £15bn to the Scottish economy annually, says the PSI report on the implications for the nation.

Do you think we should change UK time to boost tourism and give us longer days? Could the UK live with two different time zones if Scotland isn't on board?