Fuel strike threat: Ministers' 'top up' advice criticised


David Cameron: "No need to queue up for fuel"

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The government is facing criticism for its handling of the threat of a strike by fuel tanker drivers.

It advised "sensible precautions", saying drivers should top up their tanks but there was no fuel shortage.

Petrol retailers said the government was intent on "creating a crisis out of a serious concern" while Labour said it was making the situation worse.

Unite union drivers, who supply 90% of UK forecourts, have voted to strike, although no dates have been set.

Advice 'dangerous'

An earlier suggestion by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude for drivers to store petrol - "maybe a little bit in the garage as well in a jerrycan" - also provoked criticism.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the AA said the advice was potentially dangerous and asked Mr Maude to withdraw it.

The government later said Mr Maude's comments were wrong.

Speaking on BBC Two's Newsnight, Minister for Roads Mike Penning said Mr Maude's comments had been "a mistake".


Is the government taking the prospect of fuel shortages seriously - and keen to give the impression it is? You bet.

The headcount at today's Cobra civil contingencies committee told its own story.

The roll call of cabinet ministers totalled five, including the prime minister.

Add to that seven junior ministers, including Transport Minister Mike Penning.

But the tone from ministers has changed. This morning, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told us "lives would be at risk" if fuel tanker drivers go on strike.

He also suggested it would be useful if people had a "little bit" of fuel "in their garage in a jerrycan".

Energy Secretary Ed Davey's approach, after the Cobra meeting, was much more measured and businesslike.

The government, he said, was ensuring there was "resilience in the system".

The public should make "sensible plans" and keep petrol tanks topped up. No mention of lives being at risk. No mention of jerrycans.

So, in a sentence, what is the message the government is trying to articulate?

"Don't panic, we're doing all we can."

Now they have to hope saying "don't panic" will ensure just that, and not the opposite.

He said his colleague had not understood the size of a jerrycan, which can hold 20 litres - more than the official limit for the amount that can be safely stored at home.

"What we were trying to say to people was be prepared. Let's not panic, let's not queue but be prepared," Mr Penning said.

After a meeting of the civil contingencies committee Cobra on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokesman said: "There is no need to queue for petrol, but in the normal course of business, motorists should consider keeping their tanks topped up.

"But there is no shortage of fuel at present and forecourts are being replenished."

He reiterated Prime Minister David Cameron's earlier message that any strike would be "unjustified" and said talks needed to continue to avert industrial action.

"The government has learnt lessons from the past and stands ready to act to manage the impact of any strike, in particular, to our emergency and essential services," the spokesman said.

The committee discussed how to maintain fuel supplies, which included increasing the potential number of military drivers.

Brian Madderson, of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, called for ministers and the public to keep "a cool head".

"Yesterday we polled a good proportion of our members right across the UK and petrol was 45% up compared to a normal Tuesday and diesel was 20% up."

Labour Treasury spokesman Chris Leslie told the BBC: "I heard Francis Maude was telling people to start filling jerrycans, panicking people all around the country, which is an incredibly irresponsible action to take.

"What they should do is get a date for Acas where they can all get around the table, sort out these difficulties and avoid the strike."

Labour leader Ed Miliband also said "it was in the interests" of the public for all sides to meet and negotiate.

Conciliation service Acas had said it would contact the five oil firms affected and Unite to agree a timetable for talks.

'Business as normal'

Unite has said it "welcomed the prospect of meaningful talks" but was waiting for a formal invitation.

There are reports of increased demand for fuel at some petrol stations, with Esso saying that "some sites may temporarily be out of one or two types of fuel."

Shell reported it was "business as normal".

Tesco said it was experiencing "an increase in sales in some areas" but reassured customers it was working hard to meet that demand.

Asda said it was "working flat out behind the scenes to keep petrol in stock. We apologise to customers if they find some pumps are running low."

A statement added: "We'd encourage customers to heed the advice of the AA. There are no strike dates planned and there'd be seven days' notice should there be any industrial action. Therefore there's no need for customers to change their petrol-buying routine. "

Geoff Dunning, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, told the BBC he did not know if there was any real difference "between what people call panic-buying and prudent precautions".

Tanker strike threat: Are motorists panic buying?

The AA's Edmund King said there was enough fuel for everyone but the situation would get worse if people panicked.

Mr Cameron had earlier advised people to take any "opportunity to top up".

"There is no imminent strike. The unions would have to give seven days' notice of any strike so there is no need to queue to buy petrol," he said.

The government also has plans to train military personnel with an eight-day course.

More than 80 "highly qualified" drivers from the Royal Air Force were due to begin initial training by one oil haulage firm on Wednesday.

Unite, the UK's biggest union, has called for minimum standards covering pay, hours, holiday and redundancy for tanker drivers.

Workers involved in the dispute over terms, conditions and safety standards have already voted to walk out.

The union represents about 2,000 drivers who deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages, as well as supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    What stupidity PM, queues at the last 3 petrol stations I have passed, even police in attendance at one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Time all unions were banned, they ruined this country. Mrs T would know how to deal with them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    I was about to mow my grass and discovered that thanks to the panic created today I am unable to find any petrol.
    Will there be a special allowance for gardeners to save them from the wroth of their wives?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    254 geordiejones
    "Are these drivers for real, there on nearly £45000"

    Come on BBC, yet another ill informed HYS contributer who, if they'd only google a few tanker job ads, would discover that pay is 8.50 - 10.50 an hour.

    HYS is full of comments like Geordie's here, and it's because you fail to show any due diligence when it comes to finding out how much tanker drivers earn.

    Buck up, BBC!

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    189 - Memain

    I tend to agree with you. I have a work colleague whose son is recently graduated from Oxford with a first class honor in PPE. He told us that most of his classmates are so good in bulls$$ting & have little knowledge what the real world. On this note I'm really concerned that we have been allowing this kind of "elite" to run our country. 1 scientist worth more than 30 politicans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    230. Mick

    These idiots are running the country!!!
    Have to take issue on 2 fronts here Mick:

    1.) The bungers are making the decisions.

    2.) There's a difference between running and ransacking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    You have got to admire the Chutzpah and sheer duplicity of the PM and the Conservative party. When they were in opposition they jumped on every fuel protest bandwagon and sided with the strikers (2000,2005,2007) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_protests_in_the_United_Kingdom
    Now in government he is thinking about UK PLC. Why does no journo question this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Another example of trade unions trying to hold the country to ransom. They're already better off than the majority of people in the private sector (and not forgetting the 2 million + people who would relish the chance to work for their current pay/conditions!). This strike is going to hit people and businesses and ultimately damage our fragile economy.. selfish, shortsighted.. probably both.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    @ Skashed - you are being naive if you think Cameron and his toadies aren't encouraging panic buying - unions have to give a weeks notice before striking so any action can't take place before the weekend - how else are they going to blame the unions for disruption and shortages over Easter ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    I'm a police officer on £35000 with a wife and three kids and i can manage, Iv been shot at, stabbed, spit on, and lots lots more, they have a nerve, they really do, there are people out there that would do there job for £10000 less and be content."

    So your a supporter of this Goverment looking to cut wages for being shot, stabbed and spat at.

  • Comment number 270.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Keep stressing and carry on, so I've now bought a jerry can,filled it with petrol and locked it in my shed.Along comes one of those yobs the gov is always telling us is our fault for bringing them up like that and my God it's the school's fault for not teaching him to have a strong character.Anyway he's broken the lock and my shed's on fire - called the f brigade, they've run out of fuel. Ta Dave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    Thought it was illegal, apart from dangerous, to stock one’s own fuel, unless it amounted to just enough for eg. a petrol run strimmer. Certainly not stock piles of fuel for a car! What about those who live in high rise accommodation, with no garden shed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    The answer from this particular Union is ALWAYS to Strike.
    It is counter-productive for their members and what worse damaging to small businesses that depend on transport. The union leaders will continue to get their huge pay packets while ordinary folk will have to stop work because of their actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Sack every single one of them who fails to turn up for work and offer training and a job to new drivers. WHO wouldn't want £45,000 per year for spending most of their time sitting on their behind. I believe that if you don't like your job or pay you leave and look for another. This country has been held to ransom by unions over and over again. Time to ban them and sack any worker who wont work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    If you store petrol it starts to degrade. Buy wine, sit at home and enjoy the sunshine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    Dave you plonker. Get back to your clients, they've paid for lunch. You can use the horse anyway. Don't they make molitov cocktails out of petrol, not really a good idea advising people to store it willy nilly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    I have to say that Francis Maude is showing himself up to be a bit of a berk

    It seems that every time he opens his mouth he rachets up the rhetoric. He did it today and he did it over the other day when he launched an attack on Labour over party donations which will have done little to pave the way to a settlement. Not to mention his personal attack on Mark Serwotka on Newsnight a few months ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    So when your house burns down and your insurance company laughs at your stupidity will Maude compensate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Seems to work out nicely for them... they get people spending money (wait for the figures of "increased fuel demand" in a month spun to make things look good), they get to make the unions look bad, they get to have us used to seeing military on our streets (good for when the € collapses!) and they can bury all the mess from the last week too. Am I just cynical or is EVERYTHING they do dishonest?


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