Friday, 30 March 2012

Turning a rumour into a crisis

I don't own a car. I can't afford one, and quite frankly I don't need one. Where I live, public transport is perfectly adequate for my daily needs. If there's something really special that I need to do away from my area, then I hire a car. This is cost effective, and only happens two or three times a year.

This weekend is one of those occasions. I picked up a rental car this morning for a four day hire, so that I could collect my sister's ashes from Lichfield, and take them up to Wales over the weekend to scatter them, according to her wishes, in a well loved beauty spot. So far so good. I began to worry a little bit when on my way to the car hire place I saw a Nottingham Post headline outside a newsagents which said, "Notts petrol stations run out of fuel as panic hits the forecourts". What on earth was going on?

The car had about a quarter tank of fuel, so I obviously needed to get some more. In touring around (wasting valuable fuel), Sainsbury's and Tesco's had run out, one or two smaller garages were restricting customers to a maximum of £5 of fuel, and those garages (for example Asda) who seemed to still have an adequate supply also had horrendous queues waiting to get in. I decided to make my way to Lichfield in the hope that everywhere wasn't as mad as Nottingham. At the Donington Park Services there was plenty of petrol, and no queues, but of course the price is exorbitant. Beggars can't be choosers, and I filled up, then made my way to Lichfield. Tomorrow I will have enough to get up to Wales which will allow me to do what I have to do. I'll worry about getting back on Monday. Why on earth was all of this so difficult?

We know that tanker drivers have voted for industrial action, but here are some key points;

  • There are no dates set for any strikes
  • The UNITE Union is currently in talks with ACAS, which may bring a resolution
  • The Union says that even if there are any strikes, they won't be until after Easter
  • If there are strikes, there'll be at least seven days notice of them happening
So why the panic? The Government has not helped here. One Minister, Francis Maude gave the advice that people should fill jerry cans with petrol to prepare for a fuel tanker strike. This has caused apoplexy in the Fire Brigades Union, who have warned that it would "massively increase" the risk of fires and explosions. The maximum that you can legally store in appropriate containers is 30 litres, and these must not be in domestic dwellings or buildings attached to domestic dwellings. So people without a garage, or have one attached to the house are in trouble. David Cameron has distanced himself from Maude's advice, but has said that it is "sensible" to keep the car topped up. Neither men are being particularly helpful here. But there's something else.

In yesterday's Telegraph newspaper, Dan Hodges had an article with the headline, "Petrol panic: it's hard to tell who's stupider, the Government of the governed". And he goes on to say, "If you filled up your car today because Francis Maude told you to, you're an idiot. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but you are. In fact, anyone who has taken any action over the past seven days on the advice of ministers in this Government needs their head examining. Don't get me wrong. Francis Maude - acting like Corporal Jones after a posting to the Desert Rats, with his order not to panic, but break out the jerry cans just in case - is an idiot too. But seriously; if he went on television tonight and told you to put your hand in the fire, would you?" 

I agree with Dan Hodges. Do other nations panic as easily as the British? Are others as daft, as when we see a queue we must join it? We don't even know yet that there is going to be a strike, but even if there is, why panic now? There's time. Oh to heed the words of AA President Edmund King , who said two days ago, "It's vital that people do not turn a rumour into a crisis".  But I guess that too many people actually love a crisis.

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