Motorists warned not to panic

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The Independent Online

Motorists were last night urged not to panic buy after fuel-lorry drivers threatened a four-day strike over pay. There are fears of shortages at Shell forecourts after drivers employed by two firms used by the company rejected a 6.8 per cent pay offer.

As ministers prepared contingency plans to ensure supplies for emergency services, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "The most responsible thing the public can do is to buy as normal."

Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that it has called an emergency meeting of Opec, raising hopes that prices could fall on the back of a rise in production. The Government also agreed on Friday to allow oil companies to share information on stocks and co-ordinate action to protect supplies.

Members of the Unite union are due to walk out over drivers' pay from 6am on Friday until 6am next Tuesday. Talks aimed at resolving the dispute will be held at a secret location today, but time is running out.

The Prime Minister's spokesman added: "This strike is unnecessary and we would want to ensure that nothing was done that inconvenienced the public."

The strike will affect only Shell petrol stations, which make up one in 10 of the UK's petrol stations.

The shadow Business Secretary Alan Duncan accused the unions of being "utterly irresponsible".