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 114.

    This has only further highlighted our insane dependency on petrol/diesel/oil. So many people are petrified about the potential prospect of not being able to use their car (even for just a short time) that they're prepared to spend hours waiting for fuel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    just bought filled up today at my local village garage no queues, plenty of fuel so seems some parts of the country are still capable of rational thought although an very miniscule part mind you less than 3 miles from the village there were queues at every station or no petrol signs and all this for a maybe !

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Astonishing the number of people blaming "the media" for all this pain buying - talk about 'shoot the messenger'!

    This is the result of a very stupid comment made by a senior member of the government and of the government as a whole using anti-union apocalyptic language rather than trying to calm the situation and encourage calm negotiation.

    NO strike is yet called. We should all just calm down

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    So the Lemmings Principal has struck again. Queues of frustrated motorists up & down the country giving the Revenue an end of year tax windfall because the BBC et al again acts like a Tory mouthpiece and the tanker drivers are somehow the big villain in all of this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Surely this is bad for the economy - if everyone hoards 'cheaper' fuel today, then won't buy as much 'expensive' fuel tomorrow when the prices go up (AGAIN). Unless I'm missing something - how does the government make MORE money out of this? unless we're all going to drive round and round with FULL tanks just 'because we can' until we burn off the fuel and need to buy more...

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    this action is entirely political by the tories. Create panic and then blame the unions, then bring in more anti union laws for "the good of the nation". It also deflects attnetion away from the fact that the UK is back in recession - like to blame that on Unite as well Dave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Well it will at least slow down a few of the mad idiots who drive without a thought for others-and that does include BMW drivers. At least the roads will be a bit quieter and maybe people will realise that they have had it too easy for too long and time is running out on the fuel scene.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    If we assume there are 26 million cars on the UK's roads, that each one has a tank half full, and that all drivers will now fill their tanks to the brim, this means we will have a spike in capacity equivalent to 20,000 extra tanker-loads... or ten loads per unite member. But essentially that's it. Then we can't buy any more because we've nowhere to put it.

    This can only be a blip.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    QED.... never underestimate the stupidity of the British public

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Crazy Crazy absolute madness! I don't who's more stupid, those panic buying when a strike is far from inevitable and not even announced or the politicians for opening their mouths!

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Why is the Government involved at this stage-the nanny state. Fill/don't fill/jerry can/no jerry can - and so on - it's rubbish. We have huge issues to be addressed in this country and Cameron is telling us to top up out tanks! Plus the media is loving this - totally disproportionate reporting - all playing right into the union's hands. Let them get on with it - strike or not - we'll manage

  • Comment number 103.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    This spending spree on fuel ensures that the government gets a MASSIVE amount of money into its coffers - most people drive around on half a tank of petrol, then spend £10 to refuel. This government PANIC ensures that everyone buys twice as much - and more - ensuring a happy Cameron and cronies. The duty on petrol makes up most of the price - straight to the government. Crafty measure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    And the GREEDY forecourt owners are cashing in as well, GREEDY B@$!&£"S

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    I heard this afternoon that some independent garages are also putting prices up in the North West of the UK.

    Was this a 'small business boost thing' do you think?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Panic Buying eh?

    I can't see your boss being too sympathetic if you can't get in to work because you had no petrol. It's a case of "the early bird catches the worm". You don't have petrol then you are stuck. And no, not everybody can use or rely on public transport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I just can't believe how stupid people can be.Its mind boggling.The Unions haven't fixed any dates for strikes and they have to give 7 days notice prior to doing so.Those panic buying are going to feel right mugs if a/there's no strike and b/ fuel prices come down in the next week or so.Chill out people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    They cay there is a fuel shortage, there is now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Not surpised after the idiotic government statements yesterday.

    Garages have already bumped up prices by 2p or more to take advantage of supply pressures - welcome back to the 70s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Retailers and the taxman are lapping this up, as they come like cattle to the slaughterhouse... Whilst us with a brain cell and free will sit back in disbelief at all the bother being created over something that isn't even a problem yet.


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