Fuel panic spreads: After the great jerry can farce, now ministers tell drivers to wait until your car's tank is half full before topping up
- Dozens of petrol stations remain closed after yesterday stockpiling advise
- Farce as ministers offer conflicting advice amid claims they are stoking crisis
- Meanwhile, RAF personnel train to operate fuel lorries to counter walk-out
- Tanker drivers warn petrol supplies could run out within TWO DAYS of strike
- Miliband STILL refuses to condemn Unite, Labour's biggest union paymaster
Motorists faced further confusion today over how to prepare for a national strike by miltant tanker drivers when a minister advised them to keep their tanks at least half full.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey's comments followed widely criticised advice from Francis Maude, the Cabinet Minister, that motorists should consider storing petrol in jerry cans at home.
Mr Davey told BBC News: 'The average tank is a third full and I think if we can increase the average maybe to two thirds, I think people should be topping up when their tanks go below, say, half-full, that sort of figure.'
Closed: Police had to shut down this garage in Christchurch, Dorset, because the tailback of cars was causing a hazard to traffic as motorists made a desperate bid to top up following news of possible fuel tanker strikes
Panic: Tseco filling station in Seacroft, Leeds, which has been struggling with surging demand for petrol and diesel
He added that drivers should fill up if they planned to go on a long journey at Easter.
Meanwhile, Mike Penning, Roads Minister, told BBC Newsnight it was a ‘mistake’ by Mr Maude to suggest drivers fill up their jerry cans.
Mr Penning said: ‘He didn't understand the size of jerry cans.'
He also said no one from Unite had raised concerns with him over the issues of health and safety, and said it was over the issue of ‘pay’ that tanker drivers would go on strike.
He added: ‘What we are trying to do is get the common sense approach, if the strike goes ahead we will have shortages so let’s make sure people understand that and go forward.
‘There isn’t a strike but a strike is likely to happen. It is common sense...that if there is likely to a strike don’t queue in the garages, but if you are passing the garage and you are on a quarter or a half a tank top up now because there is no strike.’
Fuel rationing returned to forecourts last night as the Army was put at the centre of plans to minimise disruption caused by the looming industrial action.
As ministers were accused of spreading panic, David Cameron sought to seize control by drawing up plans to store petrol at military depots and to fast-track the training of troops to drive tankers.
Motoring groups, however, said the Government had helped create a sense of crisis by suggesting drivers should fill up their tanks – while firemen’s unions warned one minister’s advice to store jerry cans full of fuel at home was both dangerous and potentially illegal.
Soldiers at the ready: Army personnel are being trained to drive the tankers and are on standby to maintain essential supplies
Despite officials insisting there was no cause for panic, long queues and soaring prices were seen at many forecourts, with some petrol stations imposing limits of as little as £10 on purchases.
In other developments:
- Sales of petrol were up 45 per cent compared to normal, and sales of diesel up 20 per cent;
- Unions said a strike could deplete petrol stocks within two days;
- RAF personnel began training to drive tankers, while officials drew up plans to use ‘rubberised military containers’ to store fuel;
- Labour leader Ed Miliband again refused to condemn the strike, led by Unite, which has given Labour £5million since he became leader;
- Retailers urged both ministers and motorists to keep a ‘cool head’.
'Self-fulfilling fuel crisis': Chaos reigned on garage forecourts yesterday as motorists made a desperate bid to top up their tanks
Blunder: Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude suggested motorists fill up jerry cans, right, to avoid shortages
Downing Street dismissed Labour claims that it was deliberately stoking up anxiety in an attempt to highlight the Opposition’s links with Unite.
On Tuesday, No 10 urged motorists to make ‘contingency plans’ for a strike by drivers who are demanding minimum standards on pay, hours, holiday and redundancy.
Unite represents around 2,000 drivers who deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages, as well as supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Tesco, covering 90 per cent of the nation’s forecourts.
Closed: The petrol station at Asda in Trafford Park, Manchester, is closed after it ran out of fuel
Nothing left: The petrol station at ASDA in Trafford Park, Manchester, is closed after it ran out of fuel this afternoon
Wry: Pugh's take on the strike threat
Ministers only expect half of drivers to walk out if the strike goes ahead. Though no date has been set, and the union has to give seven days’ notice, April 8 and 9 have been identified as likely dates for action to begin.
The Government hopes motorists will keep their cars topped up before a strike – rather than driving with the fuel tank half empty – so the country can keep moving in the event of any temporary shortages.
But even as Downing Street was trying to calm panic buying yesterday morning, Mr Maude compounded confusion by advising people to store jerry cans full of fuel at home.
‘There are lives at risk if this action goes ahead as well as massive inconvenience to millions of people up and down the country,’ the Cabinet Office minister said.
‘The greater the extent to which people have petrol fuel in their vehicles, with maybe a little bit in the garage as well, in a jerry can, the longer we will be able to keep things going.’
The Fire Brigades’ Union immediately called on Mr Maude to withdraw the advice, claiming it would ‘massively increase’ fire and explosion risks.
Waiting patiently: Cars queue waiting for fuel ahead of the weekend on Great Howard Street, Liverpool causing traffic congestion on the busy main road
Drivers fill their cars up in Bristol this morning even though the AA said people should not panic buy fuel
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘This is not sensible advice. The general public does not properly understand the fire and explosion risk of storing fuel, even if it was done sensibly.
‘Those without garages may be tempted to store fuel in the home. In the event of a fire in the house or a neighbouring property, it would be disastrous.
'It is already against the law to store more than ten litres of petrol in two five-litre plastic containers in the home.
'As that amounts to little more than a third of a tank in most cars, the advice is of little practical help.'
Cars wait at the Shell garage in Edinburgh with staff trying to control the flow of traffic
Brian Madderson, of RMI Petrol, which represents independent forecourt operators, said: ‘This Government appears intent on creating a crisis out of a serious concern.
'We believe cool heads must prevail here otherwise we are going to run out of stock rather quickly. By cool heads that means the Government as well.’
Geoff Dunning, of the Road Haulage Association, said there was no real difference ‘between what people call panic-buying and prudent precautions’.
The Prime Minister denied the Government was trying to ‘raise the temperature’ in the dispute, saying the Government was delivering a ‘very calm, very sensible’ message but there was ‘absolutely no justification’ for a strike.
‘I do not want a strike to take place, I hope the talks will be successful. But in government you always have to prepare for any eventuality.
‘The British people would expect that. To the British people themselves I would say look, there is no imminent strike. The unions would have to give seven days’ notice of any strike so there is no need to to queue to buy petrol.
‘If there is an opportunity to top up your tank if a strike is potentially on the way, then it is a sensible thing if you are able to do that.’