Petrol queues ease as threat of Easter strike is dropped

Queues for petrol are easing after unions announced there would be no strike over Easter, motoring organisations say.

The government earlier changed its advice to drivers saying it was no longer urgent to top up petrol tanks, following two days of panic buying.

There have been some reports to the BBC of continuing shortages at a few petrol stations.

But retail figures suggest demand for petrol waned from Thursday to Friday.

The AA described "a rapidly improving picture at fuel stations".

A spokesman said: "The advice for drivers is to resume your normal buying patterns and to adhere to regulations on how much fuel you can carry and store."

The RAC motoring group also said it was "business as usual".

"People should buy fuel as and when they need it - there is no shortage and panic buying should be avoided," a spokeswoman said.

Awaiting deliveries

Demand for fuel appeared to be dropping - with unleaded petrol sales down from 172% above normal on Thursday to 57% above normal on Friday, according to independent retailers' group RMI Petrol.

Diesel sales were down from 77% above normal on Thursday to 29% above normal on Friday.

RMI chairman Brian Madderson told the BBC he hoped full petrol services could be resumed "by Monday, maybe Tuesday of next week".

But he added that panic buying was "still rife" in some areas of the country.

"I've just been to a site in Kent this afternoon - they got a tanker load in this morning and they are still selling fuel at 100% more than they would do on a normal Saturday."

The BBC has also had reports on Saturday of some queues and shortages at petrol stations in Leeds, Egham in Surrey, Bromley in south-east London, Finchampstead in Berkshire and St Albans in Hertfordshire.

In Guildford, Surrey, one petrol station is refusing to sell motorists any more than £25 worth of fuel.

Motoring experts now warn of a two to three-day backlog as haulers attempt to refuel petrol stations.

A BP spokesperson said there had been a reduction in demand on the forecourts but it still had a few sites which had completely run out of stock and were awaiting deliveries.

'Shambolic' situation

Meanwhile, several Labour MP's have called for Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to resign over comments he made advising storing petrol in jerrycans.

A York woman, who suffered severe burns while decanting petrol at home, remains critically ill in hospital.

Although a strike by fuel tanker drivers over Easter was out of the question as of Saturday, the threat of future industrial action was not yet over.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said the union was focused on next week's talks with distribution companies through the reconciliation service Acas - but this did not mean it had backed down.

Acas said unions and fuel bosses would not meet until after Monday but said it was "pleased" that Unite was ready to start substantive talks as soon as possible.

An Acas spokesperson said: "We are meeting all of the employers involved in the dispute on Monday to complete our exploratory talks with them.

"We hope that more formal talks involving both Unite and the employers will start as soon as possible after Monday."

Speaking to the BBC, the head of Unite, Len McCluskey, condemned the government's "shambolic handling of the whole situation".

He also called for the prime minister to refute accusations the government had "deliberately" caused the dispute.

When asked why the union had failed to announce sooner that there would be no Easter strike, Mr McCluskey said: "We did it as early as we possibly could".

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "The government has always been clear this is about doing everything possible to protect the country from a potentially crippling strike, and not about playing politics.

"We urge Unite to negotiate with the employers, and to make clear there will be no strike."

Peter Carroll of Fair Fuel UK said the government's advice "should have been to keep calm and carry on because there wasn't a strike".

He said the main crisis in the UK was "the price of petrol and diesel", which the government was failing to address.

"Petrol and diesel are the lifeblood - the oxygen - of the economy. And this narrow-minded view they have that the only way is up for fuel duty is actually killing the patient."

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