Tory scaremongering over fuel strikes causes tragedy

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By a Newsnet reporter

The UK Government’s handling of the fuel strike threat has been branded a shambles by SNP Transport spokesperson Angus MacNeil MP, who condemned Downing Street’s politicking, which had created unnecessary panic, as a cynical attempt to distract attention from the Budget.  The UK government’s advice caused widespread panic buying, and has led to a woman in York suffering serious injuries after trying to decant petrol from one container into another.

Despite there being no date planned for strike action by fuel tanker drivers, the announcement by the tanker drivers’ union that there would be no strike over the Easter holiday period, and hopes that negotiations may still find a solution to the dispute without strikes, the UK government advised motorists to fill up their petrol tanks and stock up on fuel in order to beat the strike.  

Conservative Cabinet Minister Francis Maude advised motorists to keep a full jerry can of fuel at home in case there was a strike.  Panic buying and long queues at petrol stations ensued in many areas of the country.

The advice was condemned by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) and health and safety organisations who said that storing inflammable liquids at home was potentially dangerous.  It was also pointed out that storing fuel at home in quantities greater than 10 litres is illegal.  

The general secretary of the FBU, Matt Wrack, said it was dangerous to store fuel in domestic premises and sharply criticised Mr Maude’s advice.   

“This is not sensible advice and people should be discouraged from doing so,” Mr Wrack said.

“The general public does not properly understand the fire and explosion risk of storing fuel, even if it was done sensibly.”

He added: “It is already against the law to store more than 10 litres of petrol in two five-litre plastic containers in the home. As that amounts to little more than a third of a tank in most cars, the advice is of little practical help.”

The fears of the critics were realised on Thursday when a woman in the North of England received 40% burns after decanting petrol from a jerry can in her kitchen in order to fill up her car.  Diane Hill suffered serious injuries after her clothes caught fire as she decanted fuel from one container into another at her home on York.

Mr MacNeil contrasted the panicked and political approach of the UK Government with the measured response and contingency preparation of the Scottish Government.

Mr MacNeil said:

“Downing Street has turned a drama into a crisis with their shambolic response to the fuel strike threat. This was cynical politicking by the Prime Minister as his government attempted to distract attention from the disastrous Budget.

“Tory Ministers, and their Lib Dem hangers-on, have created unnecessary panic, causing real inconvenience and upset for millions of people. It has been an utter shambles.

“Francis Maude in particular should hang his head in shame.

“What a contrast between the shambolic approach of the Coalition Government and the calm response of Scottish Ministers.

“As the Scottish Government have clearly communicated, drivers are not currently involved in industrial action and any decision to strike requires seven clear days notice – it is therefore impossible for strike action to take place at the very earliest until after the Easter Weekend. The industry is very clear that it is operating as normal, and the sensible advice from the Scottish Government is that drivers should carry on normal fuel purchasing arrangements.

“All parties to the dispute should work together through next week’s ACAS talks to resolve it, and avoid any further disruption to drivers and businesses.

“While UK Ministers lurch from one self-inflicted crisis to another, the Scottish Government is building on the substantial contingency arrangements already in place on the areas where Scotland has devolved responsibility, including public transport, emergency services, education and agriculture.”