Unions rule out Easter fuel strike

Unions ruled out an Easter strike by fuel delivery drivers after the government was accused of triggering panic-buying and long queues at garages with its "incompetent" handling of the dispute.

The Unite union lifted the threat of action over one of the busiest weekends on the roads, saying it wanted to focus on talks next week with haulage contractors.

It follows days of uncertainty that prompted fierce criticism of government ministers who had been seen as exacerbating the situation by advising motorists to top up their cars and fill fuel cans.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband accused the government of "playing politics", seeking to divert attention from days of negative headlines about the Conservative Party's donors, an unpopular new tax on hot snacks and a growing sense that the leadership is out of touch with hard-pressed families.

"This is not a political dispute, it is an industrial dispute," said Unite's deputy head Diana Holland. "The government's recent rhetoric will not help us achieve a negotiated settlement. They must set aside their political objectives and work with us."

Motoring groups said ministers' advice had generated "self-inflicted" shortages and queues at garages. Demand for petrol was 172 per cent higher than normal on Thursday, a petrol retailers' trade body said.