The great petrol farce: Minister tells drivers to top up when their tanks are half full and guess what? It's pandemonium at the pumps
Dorset police asks garages to close due to 'dangerously' long queues
HUNDREDS of petrol stations remain shut today after stockpiling advice
Halfords report an incredible 467 per cent rise in demand for jerry cans
Farce as ministers offer conflicting advice amid claims they are stoking crisis
Buying spree will bring in more than £32m in extra fuel duty, says the AA
Meanwhile, RAF personnel train to operate fuel lorries to counter walk-out
Talks over the tanker drivers dispute will not be held before Monday
Ed Miliband urges government to apologise for ‘shambles on petrol’
Sales of petrol up by 81 per cent, according to AA
By Jamie Mcginnes
Panic buying was spreading today as retailers reported a surge in sales, with one police force even asking petrol stations to close temporarily for safety reasons.
There was also a run on jerry cans - sales of which were up 500% - as worried motorists heeded the controversial advice of Cabinet minister Francis Maude to stockpile fuel.
In Dorset, police asked some garages to shut its forecourts over fears the queues stretching onto main roads were a danger to other drivers.
Meanwhile, increased sales of fuel are expected to bring in more than £32 million in extra fuel excise duty.
The AA calculated the figure after news that petrol sales shot up by 81 per cent and diesel by 43 per cent.
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents around 5,500 garages, blamed advice from the Government on keeping tanks topped up.
A spokesman said: 'This is exactly what we didn’t want - people panic buying. Deliveries are still being made to garages and we are advising people to continue with their normal buying habits.'
AA president Edmund King said: 'We now have self-inflicted shortages due to poor advice about topping up the tank and hoarding in jerry cans.
'This in turn has led to localised shortages, queues and some profiteering at the pumps.'
Petrol stations in Cambridge have already started rationing by limiting customers to £10 worth of petrol or diesel.
The chaos followed the incredible farce of ministers issuing a series of conflicting messages to motorists on how to prepare for a national strike by tanker drivers.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey this morning suggested that drivers top up when their tanks are half empty.
He said: 'The figures I’ve been given that is on a normal day about a third of tanks are full, so the average tank has a third full and I think if we can increase the average maybe to two thirds, I think people should be topping up when their tanks go below, say, half-full, that sort of figure.
'There’s no scientific figure, but people when they’re going about going to the petrol station, rather than not filling up totally in order to save a bit of cash, and we all know people have real problems with finances at the moment, they should actually go the full hog and fill up when they can.'
His comments followed advice from Mr Maude that motorists should consider storing petrol in jerry cans at home.
The messages have been roundly criticised and today Labour leader Ed Miliband called on David Cameron and Mr Maude to apologise for causing a 'shambles on petrol'.
Hundreds of petrol stations across the country have been forced to close thanks to panicking drivers flooding forecourts, the AA told MailOnline.
Other motoring organisations and filling station bodies have been reluctant to provide an exact number of closures - possibly over fears that precise details could exacerbate the situation.
Talks over the tanker drivers dispute will not be held before Monday, the conciliation service Acas announced today.
Acas officials have been in contact with the Unite union and seven distribution companies involved in the row in a bid to convene a meeting and head off the threat of industrial action.
An Acas spokesman said: 'Acas has been in contact with Unite officials as well as all the contractors involved in the fuel tanker drivers' dispute. We are now in the process of receiving more detailed briefings from the parties on the various issues underpinning the dispute.
'This will enable us to determine more clearly the form substantive talks should take to provide the best opportunity for a negotiated settlement.
'We should conclude that process by Monday and would then hope substantive discussions would follow shortly afterwards.'
But there is little evidence to suggest that panic buying is dying down.
In Dorset, police said they had to ask five petrol stations - four in the Bournemouth and Christchurch area, and one in Weymouth - to close until the queues had eased off.
Chief Inspector Nick Maton said: 'Where we have received reports of traffic chaos on the public highway outside these stations, our officers have gone there and advised the garages to temporarily close.'
There was chaos at petrol stations across Yorkshire today. In Ilkley, where there are just two petrol stations, one ran dry while queues were forming at the second station.
A motorist was asked to leave the forecourt of one after he snatched the pump out of the hand of a female driver, an eyewitness said.
Queues were reported in Huddersfield and across forecourts in Leeds while at a Shell forecourt in Moortown, Leeds, there was a queue of 20 cars. One van driver said he had been waiting for 30 minutes to get fuel.
Only four of the 12 pumps were dispensing fuel as motorists waited patiently.
In Harrogate, a forecourt on the outskirts of the town had run out of fuel by 11.30am, and in Rotherham, a marshal was directing drivers as queues of around seven cars formed at Asda's petrol station.
Among signs that there could be worse to come, Halfords today reported that there has been a a 467 per cent rise in demand for jerry cans since Mr Maude's ill-fated comments yesterday.
Roads Minister Mike Penning, a former fireman, told BBC Newsnight it was a ‘mistake’ by Mr Maude to suggest drivers fill up their jerry cans.
Mr Penning said: ‘He didn't understand the size of jerry cans.'
He also said no one from Unite had raised concerns with him over the issues of health and safety, and said it was over the issue of ‘pay’ that tanker drivers would go on strike.
He added: ‘What we are trying to do is get the common sense approach, if the strike goes ahead we will have shortages so let’s make sure people understand that and go forward.
‘There isn’t a strike but a strike is likely to happen. It is common sense...that if there is likely to be a strike don’t queue in the garages, but if you are passing the garage and you are on a quarter or a half a tank top up now because there is no strike.’
Sales of petrol and diesel increased dramatically yesterday as motorists flocked to garages to fill up.
Fuel rationing returned to forecourts last night as the Army was put at the centre of plans to minimise disruption caused by the looming industrial action.
The Labour leader said: 'The Prime Minister is presiding over a shambles on petrol.
'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.'
As ministers were accused of spreading panic, David Cameron sought to seize control by drawing up plans to store petrol at military depots and to fast-track the training of troops to drive tankers.
Motoring groups, however, said the Government had helped create a sense of crisis by suggesting drivers should fill up their tanks – while firemen’s unions warned one minister’s advice to store jerry cans full of fuel at home was both dangerous and potentially illegal.
Petrol sales shot up by 81 per cent and diesel by 43 per cent compared to normal, according to the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents around 5,500 garages across the UK.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the association, told MailOnline today that conflicting advice given by ministers was to blame for the panic buying.
He said: 'They've handled it so badly. It's ironic that the man in charge of crisis management at the Cabinet Office has actually caused a crisis. The leadership has been woeful and absolutely inept.'
Mr Madderson said it was far too early for ministers to be telling drivers what to do.
He added: 'It's just such a bunch of mixed messages. This is far too early for panic to have started.'
The AA said fuel shortages were the result of poor advice and rumours leading to panic buying.
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.
'We now have self-inflicted shortages due to poor advice about topping up the tank and hoarding in jerry cans. This in turn has led to localised shortages, queues and some profiteering at the pumps.'
The AA said increased sales of fuel from panic-buying by motorists will bring in more than £32million in extra fuel excise duty.
Despite officials insisting there was no cause for panic, long queues and soaring prices were seen at many forecourts, with some petrol stations imposing limits of as little as £10 on purchases.
In other developments:
Sales of petrol were up 81 per cent compared to normal, and sales of diesel up 43 per cent;
Unions said a strike could deplete petrol stocks within two days;
RAF personnel began training to drive tankers, while officials drew up plans to use ‘rubberised military containers’ to store fuel;
Labour leader Ed Miliband again refused to condemn the strike, led by Unite, which has given Labour £5million since he became leader;
Retailers urged both ministers and motorists to keep a ‘cool head’.
Downing Street dismissed Labour claims that it was deliberately stoking up anxiety in an attempt to highlight the Opposition’s links with Unite.
On Tuesday, No 10 urged motorists to make ‘contingency plans’ for a strike by drivers who are demanding minimum standards on pay, hours, holiday and redundancy.
Unite represents around 2,000 drivers who deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages, as well as supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Tesco, covering 90 per cent of the nation’s forecourts.
Ministers only expect half of drivers to walk out if the strike goes ahead. Though no date has been set, and the union has to give seven days’ notice, April 8 and 9 have been identified as likely dates for action to begin.
The Government hopes motorists will keep their cars topped up before a strike – rather than driving with the fuel tank half empty – so the country can keep moving in the event of any temporary shortages.
But even as Downing Street was trying to calm panic buying yesterday morning, Mr Maude compounded confusion by advising people to store jerry cans full of fuel at home.
‘There are lives at risk if this action goes ahead as well as massive inconvenience to millions of people up and down the country,’ the Cabinet Office minister said.
‘The greater the extent to which people have petrol fuel in their vehicles, with maybe a little bit in the garage as well, in a jerry can, the longer we will be able to keep things going.’
The Fire Brigades’ Union immediately called on Mr Maude to withdraw the advice, claiming it would ‘massively increase’ fire and explosion risks.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘This is not sensible advice. The general public does not properly understand the fire and explosion risk of storing fuel, even if it was done sensibly.
‘Those without garages may be tempted to store fuel in the home. In the event of a fire in the house or a neighbouring property, it would be disastrous.
'It is already against the law to store more than ten 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.'
Geoff Dunning, of the Road Haulage Association, said there was no real difference ‘between what people call panic-buying and prudent precautions’.
The Prime Minister denied the Government was trying to ‘raise the temperature’ in the dispute, saying the Government was delivering a ‘very calm, very sensible’ message but there was ‘absolutely no justification’ for a strike.
‘I do not want a strike to take place, I hope the talks will be successful. But in government you always have to prepare for any eventuality.
‘The British people would expect that. To the British people themselves I would say look, there is no imminent strike. The unions would have to give seven days’ notice of any strike so there is no need to to queue to buy petrol.
‘If there is an opportunity to top up your tank if a strike is potentially on the way, then it is a sensible thing if you are able to do that.’