Bloomberg News

U.K. Has Fuel Shortage as Drivers Fill Up Amid Strike Threat

March 29, 2012

A fuel pump is covered with a sign marked 'sorry out of use' on the forecourt of an Esso gas station, operated by Exxon Mobil Corp., in Chelmsford. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

A fuel pump is covered with a sign marked 'sorry out of use' on the forecourt of an Esso gas station, operated by Exxon Mobil Corp., in Chelmsford. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Shortages were reported at U.K. fuel stations as car owners filled up their tanks to guard against a possible strike by fuel-truck drivers.

A race to buy gasoline and diesel has caused queues and scant supply in places, according to the AA motorists’ organization. The group said the rush was unnecessary and the result of bad advice from the government.

While fuel-truck drivers voted this week to strike over working conditions, their union has yet to set a date for action and said a walkout may be averted through talks. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government yesterday advised motorists to fill up tanks to ensure they can keep driving if supply is disrupted.

“We now have self-inflicted shortages due to poor advice about topping up the tank,” Edmund King, the AA’s president, said today in a statement. “This in turn has led to localized shortages, queues and some profiteering at the pumps.”

About 2,000 drivers delivering fuel to 90 percent of the U.K.’s 8,706 gas stations are involved in the dispute. Seven days’ notice must be given of a strike, a union official said today.

The U.K. has enough fuel to meet demand in the event of a strike, according to UKPIA, a petroleum industry group.

“There’s no supply problem,” Nick Vandervell, a London- based spokesman for the group, said by phone. “People need to stick to their normal fuel patterns.”

Mixed Messages

Cameron is “presiding over a shambles” as the government gives mixed messages on contingency plans, opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said yesterday that drivers would be wise to keep their cars topped up and have a spare can of fuel at home. Roads Minister Mike Penning said today that Maude’s advice was wrong.

“The prime minister needs to get a grip and calm the situation,” Miliband said in an e-mailed statement. “David Cameron and Francis Maude should apologize to the country for the way they have handled this situation.”

Unite, the U.K.’s biggest labor union, is seeking minimum standards for fuel distributors over pensions, training, health and safety, pay and hours. It has asked the government to intervene in the dispute to avoid industrial action. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, or Acas, is mediating.

“Acas has been in contact with Unite officials as well as all the contractors involved in the fuel-tanker drivers’ dispute,” it said in a statement. “We are now in the process of receiving more detailed briefings.”

That process is expected to be concluded by April 2 and “substantive discussions” will follow, Acas said.

Sales of gasoline across the U.K. rose by 81 percent yesterday, while diesel increased by 43 percent, Brian Madderson, chairman of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said by phone from Yorkshire.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nidaa Bakhsh in London at nbakhsh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Voss at sev@bloomberg.net


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