No fuel strike, just a shortage

The tanker drivers strike is unlikely to take place until after Easter, but the country is running short of fuel anyway.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Brian Maddison, chairman of Retail Motor Industry (RMI) Petrol, said that yesterday (Thursday), sales of unleaded had risen by 170% while diesel sales were up by almost 80 per cent. He made the point that the Government's whole strategy was misconceived.

The Government had wanted people to fill up now, with petrol stations being replenished before Easter. That way, both cars and petrol stations would have full tanks going into Easter. It was a nice theory, but the Government did not appear to know how fuel distribution works. With a modern "lean distribution" system, there is very little slack in the system – Brain Maddison reckoned around 15% extra could be pushed through at any one time.

If demand doubles, there is no way to quickly refill empty fuel stations – they are going to have to stay empty until their next scheduled delivery. Unsurprisingly, fuel companies do not leave hugely expensive fuel tankers lying idle, just in case they are needed.

So, we now have mostly full cars, mostly empty petrol stations and no strike in the immediate future. Talks are due to resume next week, and with seven days notice of a strike being required by law, any strike will not take place until after Easter.

If there is a strike in April, it is safe to assume that Cabinet Office Minister, Francis "Corporal Jones" Maude will not be talking about jerry cans again.

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