Advice row

How ministers fanned the flames of fuel strike panic

 

The briefing by the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman took journalists by surprise.

Asked what the Government’s advice to motorists was with the threat or an impending strike by petrol hauliers she replied that businesses and individuals should make whatever contingency plans they deemed necessary.

Pushed on whether she was advising motorist to panic buy she didn’t retreat. Motorists “will draw their own conclusions”, she said.

At first it was suggested that the move was part of a cynical attempt by Downing Street to move the news agenda on from tales of late night supper for Tory donors in Downing Street.

But as motorists up and down the country took the Government’s advice to heart it became clear in Westminster that the move was actually part of a deliberate strategy to try and undermine the effectiveness of any strike before it happened.

Ministers were working under the assumption that, because of the financial costs to the workers involved, if and when the strikes do happen they will last no longer than four days at a time.

One said that they had calculated that there is three times more petrol storage capacity in people car tanks than there is nationally in forecourts and storage facilities.

Far better, their argument went, that motorists panic bought now when fuel supplies were running normally than in the few days running up to a strike when supplies were about to be suspended.

But quite apart from the dangers of people stockpiling gerry-cans of flammable fuel in their homes for the next few weeks the Government initiative appears to have other flaws as well.

The Retail Motor Industry Federation estimates there are now 6,000 fewer forecourts than there were at the time of the fuel blockade in 2000 making it far easier than it was for fuel shortages to become a self-fulfilling prophecy – even with supplies uninterrupted.

This could mean some petrol stations temporarily running out of fuel and making it harder for those who really do need petrol to get it.

And then there is the crying wolf problem. With unions and employers likely to sit down at the conciliation service ACAS in the next few days any strike is now likely to be weeks away – by which time most of the hoarded fuel will have run out.

Next time motorists will probably wait for an actual strike announcement before panic buying – causing exactly the problem the Government wanted to avoid.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

SAP BI CONSULTANT

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

£35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice