British motorists panic buy petrol


British motorists continued to panic-buy petrol today, causing chaotic scenes at some garages, as it emerged that talks over the tanker drivers’ dispute will not be held before Monday.

The conciliation service Acas said its officials have been in contact with the Unite union and seven distribution companies involved in the row in a bid to convene a meeting and head off the threat of industrial action.

That process should be concluded by Monday and substantive discussions should follow shortly afterwards, Acas announced.

The move followed news that increased sales of fuel from panic-buying by motorists yesterday will bring in more than £32 million in extra fuel excise duty.

The AA calculated the figure after petrol sales shot up by 81 per cent and diesel by 43 per cent as motorists flocked to garages across the UK to fill up following advice from ministers.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents about 5,500 garages, blamed advice from the British government on keeping tanks topped up, including the much-criticised call by cabinet office minister Francis Maude to fill up jerry cans.

A spokesman 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.”

AA president Edmund King said: “There is no fuel tanker strike and therefore if drivers followed normal fuel-buying patterns, there would be no fuel shortage whatsoever.”

But panic-buying was reported across the UK, leading to long queues outside some garages and “sold out” or “food only” signs greeting car drivers.

A motorist in Ilkley, Yorkshire, was asked to leave the forecourt of one garage after he snatched the pump out of the hand of a female driver, an eyewitness said.

One van driver in Leeds said he had been waiting for 30 minutes to get fuel while in Harrogate a forecourt on the outskirts of the town had run out of fuel by 11.30am.

Retail store Halfords reported “high” sales of fuel cans. Sales of all cans have soared by 225% compared with this time last year, with motorists buying in “the thousands”, while sales of jerry cans are up by more than 500%.

Firefighters were called to deal with a fuel spillage after a car was overfilled with petrol in Crawley, West Sussex.

London Fire Brigade urged businesses to place warnings on websites and petrol cans so that people do not accidentally fall foul of the law.

An Acas spokesman said: “Acas has been in contact with Unite officials as well as all the contractors involved in the fuel tanker drivers’ dispute.

“We are now in the process of receiving more detailed briefings from the parties on the various 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.

“We should conclude that process by Monday and would then hope substantive discussions would follow shortly afterwards.”

Meanwhile, the political row over the government’s handling of the dispute continued to rage, with Labour describing it as “shambolic and shameful”.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “Politicians of all parties have a responsibility in these situations not to play politics but to urge the employers and the trade unions to get round the table.”

Mr Balls said chancellor George Osborne was “worried about the economy faltering, he is worried about a Budget which has gone down badly, he wants an enemy, he wants somebody to blame, he wants to blame the Unite trade union”.

Mr Osborne said: “The reason why people are concerned about fuel supplies is because we have a trade union that is threatening a strike that is potentially going to disrupt those supplies.

“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, it is the last thing the British economy needs at a
time like this.”