No 10 warns businesses as fears grow over fuel

DOWNING Street has urged businesses to make contingency plans as fears grow of a strike by tanker drivers that could affect nearly 8,000 petrol stations.

David Cameron’s spokeswoman said “people, especially businesses” should consider how to severe disruption in the event of a strike, which could be arranged for next week or for over the Easter weekend.

The army was on standby last night and there were sporadic reports of panic buying. When Downing Street was asked if motorists should rush to petrol stations, the spokeswoman said: “I think people should draw their own conclusions.”

The cabinet was briefed yesterday on the ability of the army to step in. Francis Maude, the cabinet office minister, insisted the government had “learnt the lessons” of the dispute in 2000, which brought many major roads to a standstill and briefly threatened to end Tony Blair’s premiership.

On Monday truckers at five of the seven companies involved in the dispute voted for strike action over pay, conditions and safety. Britain’s biggest union Unite, which represents the 2,000 fuel tanker drivers, said its drivers supplied 90 per cent of Britain’s petrol forecourts and any action could affect 7,900 of the 8,706 filling stations across Britain.

Stocks would begin to run dry within 48 hours of any action. Soldiers are set to begin training on how to drive tankers from next week but the course will take eight days.

Yesterday Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of Unite, wrote to energy secretary Ed Davey to call for minimum standards over working conditions and redundancy.

“We have been tireless in seeking talks to avoid industrial action, but we have been frustrated at every turn,” she said.

The AA said: “The average British person buys petrol once a fortnight, but if everybody goes out and buys it in the three days leading up to a strike that could be a problem.”

Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, said the government’s comments could trigger panic buying and increase shortages.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has been criticised for failing to condemn the actions of Unite, which is a major donor to his party.