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 94.

    Hang on New Malden where the aerial footage was shot is in the same borough as Ed Davey's seat. Send him down with a bag of pasties to sort out the queue. Oh by the way all this increased revenue to the Treasury is a real scam and of course prices will rise and the poor old and vulnerable will once again be the real victims. We really are going down the pan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    The conservatives are the only people who want a strike. Labour will take a hit in the polls if Unite go on strike. David Cameron must be on his hands and knees hoping for a strike to prove to the hard working families that those union chappies are bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Honestly people. Are you 12? Are you all idiots? Then stop panic buying. I saw them today, blocking junctions, sitting dumbly in the queue, doing what the "telly people" told them to do.
    The fact the beeb has an enormous font screaming PANIC BUYING on this page doesn't help.
    If you don't sort yourself out Britain, we'll have to bring in culling ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    It wasn't very long ago when most comments on here were from trumpet-blowing tory supporters. It doesn't take long for reality to take over, does it? What with £250,000 dinners, troubles at the Border Agency, petrol shortages, etc., etc., the trumpets have been changed to whistles. Blow them loud and long, folks, and get these buffoons out of government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.


    ....then you should do as many did last time around and vote with your feet - hundreds of opportunistic, profiteering outlets went out of business when supplies returned to normal, and so they should.

    Shame on them indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Give a man a gun, he will rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he will rob the world. All about money, and it's working.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Am I they only one who is confused.

    NO strike has been announced. By law the union have to give 7 days notice.

    The government have caused this. The cynic in me thinks they did this on purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Hmmm... it's not that mcuh of a problem. We know all governments try to help they're just not very good. The media including the BBC are just trying to get a healine and the vast majority of the population will keep calm and carry on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    "Oh a queue, everyone must know something I don't about the strikes, I'd better queue also."

    Repeat one dimensional thought process...

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Well done Mr Cameron for advising people to panic buy and in the process making lots more lovely tax revenue. How very cringey of you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    How low can this pack of clowns go...I have never seen such a bumbling bunch of misfits..What ever scheme next will they cook up to hide this comedy of errors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    The only question on my mind is, "Who is stupid enough to vote for these imbeciles now?".....

    Is it not enough they are privatising our NHS, councils, schools, Mail, Green-belt. Is it not enough that we get taxed to high heaven but the rich get a tax break? C'mon folks get it together

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    This Government need to get into the real world ...spreading rumours is just tickle tackle, and how many more mis-judgements are we going to give Cameron and his cronies .. they are shocking ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Shame the population of this country have to be shepherded to the forecourts by ill thought out comments by the government, and an awful lot of irresponsible reporting by the media.

  • Comment number 80.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I drive an electric. This is all extremely entertaining, sorry to be so smug :) bwahahaha.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    In the past hour I've heard 4 different pieces of advice from different sources;

    1) Keep separate tank full of petrol in your garage.
    2) Don't panic and do nothing.
    3) Keep my cars tank 1/2 full.
    4) Keep my cars tank 2/3 full.

    No wonder I'm confused.

    Simple answer please. I have a Ford KA with a tank that's currently 1/2 full, do I need to go out and buy petrol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It looks like the government's plan of beating the 'projected recession' for the first quarter of 2012 is working well.

    Light a match, start a fire and the people will come flocking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    On My way home, I will be topping up, as a tank typically lasts me 3 days.
    I shall also be buying 500 pasties and 2,000 stamps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I normally cycle to work 4 days a week but have to use my car at the moment as I am injured. However, I am not going to panic buy and if I can't get any fuel I shall just have to take a long easter break in the glorious sun instead. Shame....


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