Fuel strike threat: 'Panic buying' at petrol stations


Aerial footage showed long queues for fuel in New Malden, London

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Queues have formed at petrol stations as demand for fuel shot up after ministers called for people to top up in case of a tanker drivers' strike.

Some garages ran dry but retailers said they were coping and normal deliveries would ensure supplies were replenished.

Ministers have rejected retailer claims their advice caused "panic buying".

Conciliation service Acas says it hopes talks will take place shortly after Monday, making Easter strikes unlikely, correspondents say.

Some 90% of UK forecourts are supplied by the Unite union's 2,000 or so members, who are calling for minimum standards of working conditions and pay.

Anticipating a strike they describe as "completely wrong", ministers had called for motorists to keep their cars "topped up" but urged people not to queue.

On Thursday, Energy Secretary Ed Davey said people "just need to do the sensible thing... get a full tank of petrol, not a half-tank."

'Self-inflicted shortages'

Brian Madderson, chairman of independent retailers' group RMI Petrol, accused ministers of "making a crisis out of a serious concern" and said they should have sought industry advice "weeks ago" on how to avoid fuel shortages.


There are serious political ramifications in the way the government is handling the fuel dispute. Labour are trying to raise the "competence issue" of the government's response and the various bits of advice from different ministers.

They want it to become an issue of judgement, competence and effectiveness in handling what is not even yet a strike.

Labour also says David Cameron should get directly involved and bring the two sides together to hammer out some sort of deal - in a way making it a leadership issue.

Added to that the party wants to make the dispute part of their narrative about how "out of touch" with ordinary people this government is.

So there is serious politics going on while, on the other side, Labour are twisting and turning, trying to avoid answering the question: why won't they condemn the strike?

It said petrol sales were up 81% on Wednesday, with diesel up 43%.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents around 5,500 garages, said: "This is exactly what we didn't want - people panic buying.

"Deliveries are still being made to garages and we are advising people to continue with their normal buying habits."

Meanwhile, Edmund King, from the AA, said: "If drivers followed normal fuel-buying patterns there would be no fuel shortage whatsoever.

"We now have self-inflicted shortages due to poor advice about topping up the tank and hoarding in jerrycans."

Queues were reported at petrol stations in various parts of the UK on Thursday, with Dorset Police urging people not to panic-buy and asking garages to close where queues were causing a traffic hazard.

Teresa Sayers, chief executive of retailer group the Downstream Fuel Association, said increased demand had resulted in some UK garages running out of fuel.

'Negotiated settlement'

But she added: "It is a temporary issue and we are replenishing the fuel as quickly as we can."

Start Quote

The government has sown the seeds of panic and people are reacting - there is no strike and there may not be for another two weeks - it's ridiculous.”

End Quote

About 1,200 of the UK's 8,500 petrol stations are operated by supermarkets, with oil companies owning some 1,800.

Supermarket Sainsbury's said "the vast majority" of its stations were open. Oil giant BP reported increased demand across its sites on Wednesday, with individual tanks running dry but no garages running out of fuel altogether.

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott said one of the reasons the government was advising people to fill up was that the capacity of private vehicle tanks was three or four times as much as all petrol stations combined.

Acas said in a statement it had contacted both Unite officials and the contractors involved and was receiving more detailed briefings on issues underpinning the dispute.

"This will enable us to determine more clearly the form substantive talks should take to provide the best opportunity for a negotiated settlement."

It said it hoped a format for talks would be fixed by Monday, with face-to-face discussions starting soon afterwards.

'A shambles'

"With seven days notice of any strike, this process makes a strike over the Easter weekend very unlikely," said BBC political correspondent Iain Watson.

Graphic showing how long fuel in UK drivers' tanks could last

Unite's drivers, who deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages and supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's, have called for minimum standards covering pay, hours, holiday and redundancy.

Chancellor George Osborne said people were concerned about fuel supplies because of the strike threat.

"The government has a responsibility to everyone in this country to take sensible contingency plans and the trade union has a responsibility to call off the threat of strike action."

He rejected criticism of the government's handling of the situation.

Much attention focused on a suggestion by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude that people store fuel in a jerrycan in the garage. It was later withdrawn, having been condemned as potentially dangerous.

Labour leader Ed Miliband called on Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise for "presiding over a shambles" and accused the government of diverting attention from criticism of the Budget.

Conservatives hit back at Labour for failing to condemn the stance of Unite - the party's biggest donor.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    3 debates open for comment on this story beeb,
    “If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. . . . The world will be yours and everything in it, what's more, you'll be a man, my son.”

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    The panicking motorists heads are running on empty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    bad advice from the government + scaremongering by the media = public panic and chaos.
    sounds like the norm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Once again, a rather cunning ploy here, by encouraging people to keep their tanks full, it means that any strikes will have limited impact, thereby weakening the Unions' hand when it comes to negotiation.

    Sadly Cameron would happily induce panic buying if he thought his corporate mates would benefit from it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Just now

    Tankers don't strike - the drivers may.

    It's too late to not panic buy now - everyone else has, so there's no petrol/derv left in a lot of stations. Buy it where you can - although don't put it in a can, storing it is illegal. Oh, and dangerous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Surely with the economy in the state it is, there are grounds to pass a law making it illegal for tanker drivers to strike? In the same way that police officers and military personnel cannot strike?

    I think the media must take some responsibility for the panic buying recently. It seems that the tabs (and even the BBC) have gone out of their way to sensationalise and inflame the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Do we really have a government schooled in all the top public schools, the last week of terrible decisions look as we have.
    They should have stood on a few street corners in there teens and gained some experience of life and understand normal people. andy

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    We are being governed by idiots. Some bright spark decides that there 6 times more fuel storage available in car fuel tanks than patrol stations, the same bright spark can't foresee that the petrol stations won't be able to handle 6 times the demand if they cause motorist to panic buy. Very impressive Mr Cameron, at this rate the tanker drivers won't have to strike your making the point for them

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    We don't really need any further proof, but here is more to show the Coalition Government is NOT fit for purpose.

    Utterly irresponsible. Blair kept a grip, for all his misguided ideas, loathsome ways.

    Come on tanker drivers and firms, get an agreement and throw some egg on DC and Gleggs faces.

    Cameron and Clegg OUT OUT OUT!

    Give us all a General Election.

    I propose a vote on no confidence

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    This drama is due to hysterical media reporting of a non-existent problem. There is no strike! I have driven 200 miles today and not seen a single queue more than 3 cars long. Yet all the papers have "Panic buying" as headlines (to sell more papers). The media reporting is totally unbalanced and exploitative. What happened to the BBC as the voice of reason? I despair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    @11. malpitt

    "The trouble is that most of the populace cannot read after a decade of Labour school standards and using mobile phones..."

    Amazing how people like you can come up with witless comments like that. Just incredible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    can't wait for the tory stooges to come in and accuse everyone else of making the crisis when several apolitical consumer/oil industry groups have now agreed that it was the coalition govt who created this mess; a self-fulfilling prophecy. - tories create crisis and blame unions. meanwhile they and their oil corporation friends collect on receipts. same old tories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    People queueing at every petrol station when there isn't even a strike. Pathetic. Still should we expect more of the sheeple when the prime minister and his simple minded ministers come out with such nonsense. The Conlibs aren't fit to run a village fete let alone the country. I did see some pasties in the shops today....

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It's wasn't the media who suggested that the public should top their tanks right up & fill cans.
    The Gov' should be reassuring people that it is doing what it can to resolve this situation & not promoting panic buying.
    This could push up fuel prices even further & we don't want that do we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    this government will make sure there is a strike, they need one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    So this is Unite's fault? A union has a strike ballot and its members are in favour. No strike date has been announced and ACAS are setting up a meeting on Monday... so there's only a 'threat' of a strike. If the Tories had just said the usual 'Strikes bad, Unions bad, democratic right to withhold labour in cases of management ignorance bad' we'd still have plenty of petrol to go around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    ha ha, its like a tax on idiots! Pay up fools! Bet the government are rubbing their hands, people queuing up to give most of their money straight to them in tax, brilliant!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Fuel scare. Great way to divert attention from bribes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Tory default position

    Everyone for himself. In Good faith the warning was to those able to protect their own interests. it was the reflex action of a Tory. I have A garage full of jerry cans. A Tank of petrol can only be used once, there is no answer for ordinary consumers in a protracted dispute.

    Same old Tories

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    @16. katy
    'This "panic" was caused by the politicians warning people to stock up on fuel. It was completely irresponsible and totally predictable. What were they thinking?'

    Probably the windfall in VAT and duty before the end of the tax year? Anyway, all politician's are muppets


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