A Question of Time Jersey Votes on Ditching GMT for CET

The residents of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands between France and England, are voting on whether to move the clocks forward from GMT to Central European Time. The choice is between improving the lifestyle or protecting business.


Big Ben in London shows British Time, something Jersey may now be ditching.
AFP

Big Ben in London shows British Time, something Jersey may now be ditching.

When it comes to questions of time, it's all about priorities. Longer sunny evenings or brighter mornings? Attracting tourists or keeping in time with London?

That is what the residents of the Channel Island of Jersey are deciding in a referendum on Wednesday. The islanders are voting on whether to move their clocks forward one hour, ditching one of their most enduring links with the United Kingdom -- Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) -- and signing up for Central European Time (CET).

One the most vociferous supporters of the referendum is Senator Jimmy Perchard, who argues that it makes sense to be more in tune with continental time considering the island is only 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the French coast while it is a full 161 kilometers (100 miles) from England.

"We have historical connections with France. Our streets have French names. The prayers in our parliament are in French," Perchard told the BBC. While Jersey is not part of the United Kingdom it is what is known as a Crown dependency, which means that London is responsible for the defense of the island -- and not much else.

Perchard argues that the time has come for change and that longer evenings would benefit islanders and attract more tourists. "A continental lifestyle is desirable." He adds that it would reduce Jersey's carbon footprint with less lighting and heating used in the evenings and would allow people to be more active, thus helping to reduce obesity.

However, his enthusiasm for a change in time is not shared by all the islanders. The business community in particular is arguing for the status quo. Attractive tax rates have made the island an important location for the financial services industry, the biggest employer on the island. A total of 220 billion pounds (€283 billion or $386 billion) are deposited in 48 banks on Jersey.

The industry umbrella organization, Jersey Finance Limited, argues that shifting time would make doing business with Great Britain, the island's major trading partner, more difficult. CEO Geoff Cook told the BBC that the move would be highly disruptive pointing out that Jersey's office hours would not be in tune with London. "In the current global climate we believe it’s just a risk we shouldn’t be taking."

The referendum is being watched closely by campaigners in the UK who argue that if the British adopted CET then there would be fewer deaths through road accidents on dark winter evenings. Their argument is backed up by data from the period 1968 to 1971 when the UK experimented with CET. During that period fewer people were killed on the roads.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is pushing for the change in the UK, arguing that it could prevent 100 deaths a year by having lighter evenings. Its Chief Executive Tom Mullarky told the Press Association that "Jersey is in a tremendous position to show leadership here."

However, wider public support for taking on the European model is lacking, particularly up in the north. If CET were introduced in the UK then daylight wouldn’t break in some parts of Scotland until the very tardy hour of 10 a.m.

smd -- with wire reports

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