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As Brexit dominates our political narrative, here is a domestic policy that would brighten all of our days: modernising our daylight saving system and bringing it into line with 21st century living and working.

As we approach the end of British Summer Time, and the days become shorter, that means millions more of us sleeping through the sunlit mornings, turning the lights on earlier to keep out the dark and finding less time for leisure and physical activity. It also means hundreds of road accidents that could be prevented by lighter evenings and an increase in the risks of poorer health and wellbeing for some.

Our current daylight saving system of GMT in the winter and GMT + 1 or British Summer Time (BST) in the summer – itself a product of the foresight of British builder and campaigner William Willett and the resulting Summer Time Act of 1916 – served pre-war Britain and its agricultural footing well. But with today’s living and working practices light-years away from the context which our clocks were set to serve – three quarters of those who work are in white collar occupations with traditional office hours, we are in but the infancy of a technological revolution that is rapidly transforming the ways in which we work and collaborate and more of us are self-employed and working part-time or flexibly – it is surely time to review whether our daylight saving system is working for us as well as it could.

The challenge has been made before. The Lighter Evenings (Experiment) Bill in 2005 would have advanced winter and summer time by one hour for a three-year trial period and the Daylight Saving Bill 2010–12, a private member’s bill by Conservative MP Rebecca Harris, would have required the government to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of moving the clocks forward by one hour for all or part of the year, with a trial to evaluate the full effects. The former was opposed by the then government while the latter was talked out by a small number of MPs at its Third Reading despite having the support of 120 MPs across parties.

Research at the time of the Daylight Savings Bill identified the benefits of moving the clocks forward an hour throughout the year, to GMT plus one hour in the winter and GMT plus two in the summer. Also known has Single Double Summer Time (SDST), this measure has the effect of moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening when more people are awake to enjoy it.

  • Tourism and jobs. 60,000-80,000 jobs could be created through increased leisure & tourism, bringing an extra £2.5-3.5 billion into the economy each year (Policy Studies Institute, forecast 2008);
  • Road Safety. The policy could help avoid an estimated 50 fatalities and 500 serious injuries on the nation’s roads each year;
  • Energy bills. Consumers and businesses would use less energy therefore saving money;
  • Climate Change. Cut at least 447,000 tonnes of CO2 pollution each year Crime. Lighter evenings would reduce crime and fear of crime; and
  • Living well. More daylight means more time for sport and physical activity.

Opposition to previous attempts to trial SDST has come in the form of a traditional objection by those industries who rise early and use the morning light including postal workers, the construction industry and farmers. However modern farming methods and postal practice have left many now neutral or positive about the proposed change. A pragmatic approach should acknowledge the latitudinal issues which daylight saving and SDST throw up, with longer later daylight in the south and longer and darker mornings in the north of the UK, while recognising the benefits of lighter evenings for all and a fine-tuning of the clocks to maximise the daylight, even in Scotland where there is less available light in the winter.

So why is it time for fresh discussion and debate on this important and cross-cutting policy area? Firstly, the political landscape has changed since the Daylight Savings Bill and there are a number of wider policy objectives which policies such as SDST have the potential to support and impact such tackling obesity and raising levels of physical activity.

Secondly, a potential implication of the Brexit negotiations is that the UK could no longer be subject to directive (2000/84/EC) of the European Parliament which requires European countries to implement a common summer time. The implications of withdrawing from the directive should be given proper debate and scrutiny.

Thirdly is the emergent youth voice in mainstream politics. In this context we must ask and canvass the views of young people and millennials, who have no experience of the 1968-71 British Standard Time trial, on the issue of daylight saving.

Finally, we have the bottom line that the majority of us continue to sleep through the early sunlit mornings and live and work in a markedly different way to that of pre-war agricultural Britain. The recent Taylor review of employment practice in Britain highlights the scale of the shift in the ways we work.

A fresh debate is needed on whether our current daylight saving system is supporting modern living and working practice as well as it could, while raising awareness about the benefits of Single Double Summer Time.

Chris Hayes is a Bright Blue Member, Conservative Councillor, and founder of the Happy Hour community group The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.