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 54.

    As I said before, please don't panic buy. It just surprises me that people don't realize that they're making a problem out of nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Essentially this proves that Unions like Unison have a disproportionate amount of power in the Uk. Such an archaic and outdated concept, unionised labour. Tankers who go on strike frankly shouldn't expect a job when they get back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    #11. malpitt

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

    What utter drivel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    If we cast our mind back more than 48 hours, we will see that the “Panic” was already being instilled in the population by the media, who took great delight in announcing the outcome of the union vote, and that some, quite frankly, sensible discussions were taking place in Government.

    Sadly that makes this item part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Surely everyone can see after Cash for Cameron, The Granny Tax, The Pasty Tax and their latest fiasco all within in week that the tories and poodles just can't hack it!

    The biggest laugh was the tory line "We've learned from the fuel protests of 2000" Really and pray tell what did you learn? how to spread panic and confusion faster than a convoy of speeding tractors??? Clueless and out of touch

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This is what happens when you put "posh boys" in charge with very little real life work experience and no common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Won't this just help the growth figures when no strike happens? i.e. There is a spike in spend at the end of March, beginning of April, although I am certain it will be attributed to government policies working

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I can understand people panic buying, as humans have a sheep mentality at the best of times. What I object to the most is the fact that all of the prices at the pumps have risen so astronomically. I spoke to a petrol station manager and he said the supply has not stopped, so the additional charge for petrol is extra profit in their pockets, which is disgraceful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.


    Gosh, the thought of having to walk anywhere sends motorists into hysterics!


  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    There are three legally addictive drugs freely available in the UK, all of them heavily taxed:-

    Tobacco, alcohol and motor fuel!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I only ever use the bus, just being down the bus station and bought a month worth of tickets, better safe than sorry!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    If the government can create this much of a mess from a small drama that may or may not happen at some point in the future, how can they possibly show any competency with major issues?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Silly people panicing because of silly media hype as usual!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    you have to go back to another time when the world was powered by the black fuel and the deserts sprouted great cities of pipe and steel. Gone now swept away. Their leaders talked and talked and talked but nothing could stem the avalanche. Only those mobile enough to scavenge brutal enough to pillage would survive.The gangs took over the highways ready to wage war for a tank of juice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Is it some 250K dinner deal by the PM to sell fuel at a fast pace to get big bucks for the fat cats who increase the prices during this panic buy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The government is not being silly people are. The government gave some very sensible advice that if you are filling up then you should fill your tank full and not half full or just put in £10 as people have been taken to doing.
    This has been misinterpreted by people who are simply not capable of realising any strike is at least 7 days away.
    Who are really the fools here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    The media are just to blame, no one listens to politicians normally, so by having this headline day after day, they are making the issue worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Send the army in, not to drive the tankers, but to send the panic buyers home! This is a Conservative dominated government. Whether you hate them, or love them, they will be consistent when it comes to dealing with trade unions. Hell will freeze over before a strike by the tanker drivers will be allowed to disrupt the fuel supply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I would LMAO if crude prices bombed and petrol dropped in price but then again that never happens in the UK....

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    What happened to the UK fuel reserves? Where are they in time of so called "crisis"? Perhaps Mr Cameron should focus on what is going on in the real world with the real people of the UK instead of boasting about the last time he ate a Cornish Pasty from a shop that closed 5 years ago.
    Perhaps then, we would avoid all this panic buying on the forecourt...


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