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Petrol panic 'shambles' earns UK Treasury £32m

LONG queues snaked from forecourts again yesterday, garages shut after drying up, and the British prime minister was accused of presiding over a shambles.

But there was one piece of good news for the government from the ongoing row over fuel tanker drivers' threat of strike action: the petrol panic buying triggered on the advice of ministers will bring an extra £32m (€38.5m) to the Treasury's coffers from fuel excise duty.

Sales of petrol are estimated to have risen 81pc in just 24 hours and diesel by 43pc, following the government's advice that drivers keep tanks topped up ahead of possible industrial action.

Dorset Police were so concerned about forecourt queues tailing out into main roads they asked some stations to close.

In Hampshire, some closed voluntarily, while in other parts of the country motorists waited for half an hour or more to fill up.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of incompetence and demanded apologies from both him and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who had urged the public to hoard petrol in jerry cans.

"The prime minister is presiding over a shambles on petrol," he said. "In a delicate situation which demanded statesmanship, the government showed partisanship.

They made a crude decision to play politics with petrol without regard for the consequence."

Motorists' fury at the way the dispute has been handled is likely to be further inflamed by the AA's calculation that the panic buying will bring an extra £32m in fuel excise duty.

Yet the chancellor, George Osborne, insisted advice given by ministers was part of "sensible contingency plans".

"The reason why people are concerned about fuel supplies is because we have a trade union that is threatening a strike that is potentially going to disrupt those supplies," he told the BBC.

Responsibility

"The trade union has a responsibility to call off the threat of strike action, it is the last thing the British economy needs at a time like this," he said.

The situation looks unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future.

Talks aimed at heading off a strike by tanker drivers in the Unite union -- one of Labour's main funders -- will now not take place until at least Monday.

The failure to get the dispute settled quickly was a further blow to motoring organisations, which attacked the government for creating fuel supply problems through bad advice.

AA president Edmund King said: "There is no fuel tanker strike and therefore if drivers followed normal fuel buying patterns there would be no fuel shortage whatsoever." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent