Petrol prices rise as demand soars – live

• Unite says tanker drivers will not strike over Easter
• Labour peer says Maude should resign over burns accident
• Balls suggests Maude partly responsible for accident
• Lunchtime summary
• Afternoon summary

10.20am: Today the petrol crisis has turned particularly ugly for the government. Two days after Francis Maude urged motorists to stockpile petrol in containers – “a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take,” he said – a woman has been seriously burnt decanting petrol from one container to another in a house in York.

Here’s the full statement from North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (NYFRS) attended a domestic property fire in York yesterday involving a female occupier who was in her kitchen and whilst de-canting petrol from one container to another the petrol ignited and set fire to her clothing. The casualty was treated by ambulance personnel and was taken to Pinderfields Hospital with 40% burns to her whole body.

Two firefighters wearing breathing apparatus used a hose reel jet to extinguish a small fire in the kitchen and removed the remaining petrol.

Peter Hudson spokesman for NYFRS said, “Members of the public should take extreme care when handling and storing petrol and be aware of the risks associated with incorrect use and storage of fuel. In domestic situations fuel containers must not be stored in living accommodation such as kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms or under staircases. Any storage place should be well away from living areas and be secured to protect against the possibility of vandalism or arson.

He continued, “Never bring petrol in side your home. If you do smell petrol fumes in a garage or out building ventilate the area and make sure nobody smokes or turns electrical switches on or off. The slightest spark could cause an explosion.”

At this stage we don’t know anything more. It is conceivable that this had nothing to do with Maude and the fuel strike panic – perhaps the woman just needed petrol for a lawnmower? – but ministers must be worried that a week that was already dreadful for the govenrment has just got much worse.

The news broke as panic buying continued. Ed Davey, the energy secretary, is meeting haulage companies later today to discuss contingency plans in case the tanker drivers’s strike does go ahead. I’ll be covering all the developments live.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

10.37am: The Press Association has just snapped this.

Unite has ruled out strike action by tanker drivers over Easter to focus on talks, the union said today.

10.40am: What is actually happening in the talks between Unite and the haulage companies? My colleague Dan Milmo has sent me this.

Behind the scenes of the dispute, the Unite trade union and the haulier companies are still holding talks about talks. Banish the image ofsmoke-filled rooms from your minds. It appears to involve documents being shuttled back and forth from Acas as both sides thrash out an agenda for talks that will, with hope, begin next week. There are expectations that they will agree to discuss common standards on health & safety, training and pensions – as well as a national forum that will meet regularly to discuss them.

Unite is adamant that these have to be serious talks that have the backing of the hauliers’ customers. Its officials feel there is no point in agreeing standards that are then undercut by the likes of Tesco, Shell and Esso whenever they issue new fuel transport tenders.

10.46am: Downing Street have not got anything to say about the burning incident in York yet. But they will need a line soon.

Here’s what the Daily Mail’s deputy political editor Tim Shipman is saying about it on Twitter.

10.55am: Here’s what Unite’s assistant general secretary Diana Holland on why Unite will not be calling a tanker drivers’ strike over Easter.

We will not be calling Easter strike action as we focus on substantive talks through Acas. We do still retain the right to call strike action for after the Easter, should those talks break down.

It should be stressed that what we are seeking is reasonable and no more than what is in place elsewhere in the industry. There have been minimum standards governing the offshore oil industry since 2000 covering health and safety, training, and terms and conditions.

This is not a political dispute. It is an industrial dispute and the government’s recent rhetoric will not help us achieve a negotiated settlement. They must set aside their political objectives and work with us, the employers, retailers and oil companies to achieve an outcome that is good for the industry and the country.

Holland gets the unenviable honour of a profile in the Daily Mail today (here, at the bottom of this article). The Mail focuses on her because, as well as being the Unite official in charge of the tanker drivers’ dispute, she is also treasurer of the Labour party.

11.05am: What’s happening on the forecourts? My colleague Shiv Malik has sent me this.

We had a number of tweeters yesterday reporting fights breaking out at forecourts. BBC Essex also had a caller describing the scene at one gas station, “people were just going the wrong way around the roundabout, blocking the way and then two vehicles just had a massive punch up, two guys got out and the police have just arrived.” You can hear it here at 4:03.

However this morning, after contacting a number of police constabularies, we found that not one of them has a log of being called to attend a forecourt fight. This includes forces from Kent and London to Merseyside, Greater Manchester and North Wales and even Essex police themselves, which is odd given the BBC caller’s testimony.

But there are still queues, apparently. This is from the Labour MP Chris Bryant.

11.17am: The British Chambers of Commerce has said that panic buying petrol could harm the economy. This is from John Longworth, the BCC’s director.

Employers are working flat out to keep their businesses afloat and deliver growth during challenging economic times. The last thing they need to contend with is a fuel strike, which could have a damaging effect on businesses across the UK … People have already started panic buying, which will lead to further shortages and make the problem even worse.

11.24am: A Labour peer has called for Francis Maude to resign. This is from Toby Harris, a former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

11.48am: Number 10 now has a line on woman who was burnt in York after decanting petrol in her kitchen. But it’s not a very revealing one. This is from a spokeswoman.

We are aware of the reports. People should follow the advice from the Health and Safety Executive.

Here’s the HSE advice.

They still have not got an answer to the question about whether David Cameron thinks Francis Maude’s comments were in any way responsible.

11.54am: Sky are saying that the woman who was burnt in York was decanting petrol from one container to another in her kitchen because her daughter needed petrol for her car. That suggests that the woman was not following Francis Maude’s advice about stockpiling. (See 10.20am.) But the Sky reporter also said that garages in York had been running out of petrol, and so there may well still be some link between the panic buying of petrol (which was encouraged by the government) and the accident, although of course neither Maude, nor any other minister, has been telling people to decant fuel in the kitchen.

12.02pm: The Labour MP Tom Harris says Francis Maude should not be blamed for the York accident.

12.06pm: The Labour MP Kark Turner, who represents Hull East, has also suggested that Francis Maude should resign.

12.10pm: Officially the Labour party aren’t commenting on the accident in York at this stage. With a woman in hospital with 40% burns, party officials say they don’t think it’s appropriate to speak out.

12.15pm: The BBC have got more on the accident in York involving the woman who was burnt decanting petrol in her kitchen. Here’s an extract from their story.

A fire service spokesman said: “Her daughter asked her mum for petrol because she had run out. The cooker was on and the fumes ignited.”

Station manager Lee Smith, whose Acomb crew attended the fire, said: “The people were cooking their tea and dispensing petrol from a container to a glass jug.

“The vapour then ignited, the jug was then spilt which obviously ignited as well and the person involved in the decanting was consumed by the flames.

“Her daughter phoned 999 and was obviously extremely distressed.”

12.18pm: Tory HQ thinks we should not get too excited about the Unite announcement about not striking over Easter. (See 10.55am.)

12.22pm: Ed Balls (pictured), the shadow chancellor, has accused the government of deliberately creating a fuel panic to divert attention from the cash-for-access scandal. David Cameron was playing “schoolboy political games”, Balls told BBC Radio Leeds.

I do think that political games were played. I think the prime minister woke up on Monday morning and thought ‘I’ve got the worst weekend I’ve had in government’, because of the Tory donation scandal after a budget which had been judged by the country to be deeply unfair, and he thought ‘Why don’t I try to divert attention?’

So suddenly, out of the blue, we had government ministers talking up a strike which wasn’t even called – there’s no date for this strike. When he should have been responsible, he decided to wind this up, he sent out his cabinet minister to say ‘Fill up your jerrycans’ and we’ve ended up with these queues, even though there’s normal petrol deliveries, there’s no strike, there has to be seven days’ notice even if there was a strike.

It was a political invention, the panic of the last couple of days, and the nation and some people are paying a very, very heavy price for that. I think it’s backfired because I think people have generally seen that these are schoolboy political games being played by people who should be doing responsible jobs.

I did not hear the interview (I’ve taken the quotes from the Press Association), but the reference to people paying “a very, very heavy price” sounds as if Balls is linking the fuel panic to the accident in York.

12.46pm: Sky says the woman burned in the accident in York has been named locally as Diane Hill.

12.48pm: The Retail Motor Industry has said that the government must now “take full control” of the fuel crisis. It has released figures showing that sales of unleaded petrol on Thursday were up 172% on the previous week. “Government created this fuel crisis and now must take full control,” said Brian Madderson, the RMI’s petrol chairman, in a news release.

1.10pm: Here’s a lunchtime summary.

• A woman from York has suffered 40% burns after decanting petrol from one container to another in her kitchen. She was supplying petrol to her daughter, who had run out. She has been named as Diane Hill. (See 10.20am.)

• Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has suggested that Francis Maude’s decision to encourage people to stockpile petrol may have had something to do with Hill’s accident. “It was a political invention, the panic of the last couple of days, and the nation and some people are paying a very, very heavy price for that.” Labour HQ is not explicitly blaming Maude, although one Labour peer has said that Maude should resign because of the incident. (See 11.24am and 12.22pm.)

• The Unite union has said that the tanker drivers will not strike over Easter. Instead, the union will focus on trying to reach an agreement with the haulage companies at the talks convened by Acas, the conciliation service. An Acas spokesperson said: “We are pleased that Unite have confirmed they are ready to start substantive talks as soon as possible. We are meeting all of the employers involved in the dispute on Monday to complete our exploratory talks with them. We hope that more formal talks involving both Unite and the employers will start as soon as possible after Monday.” (See 10.55am.)

• Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has had a meeting with the haulage companies to discuss contingency plans for a strike.
This is what the Department for Energy said about the meeting afterwards.

Ed Davey chaired a meeting with the haulage industry, the defence and transport secretaries. It was a productive meeting.The seven haulage companies that are involved in the industrial dispute with Unite attended.

Discussions focused on contingency planning, covering training more military drivers in the event that a strike is called. There is no strike at the moment, and we are calling for a swift resolution to this industrial dispute. Both parties have agreed to meet with Acas for talks next Monday. Unite would be required to give seven days notice of any strike action, and Unite has confirmed that there will be no strike action prior to Easter.

1.31pm: Here’s the latest from Sky on Diane Hill, the woman burnt in York after decanting petrol in her kitchen. And here’s a comment from Gerard Tubb, the Sky reporter.

Ms Hill was tipping petrol from a plastic petrol container for which she did not have a spout into the jug because her daughter, in her late teens or early twenties, needed petrol for her car. The vapour from the petrol in the open-topped jug was ignited by the gas cooker which was on …

The question is, why did her daughter need petrol for her car so desperately that she was transferring it in an open jug? York was one of the first places to be affected by panic-buying, with some petrol stations running out late on Tuesday, and some of the big petrol stations had no fuel yesterday.

1.47pm: Diane Hill, the woman injured in the petrol accident in York, is in a critical but stable condition in hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.

1.50pm: There are quite a few posts on Twitter now claiming that Francis Maude is going to resign. But don’t get too excited. The rumours don’t seem to come from anyone I would describe as a reliable source and, when I put them to a Number 10 source just now, he dismissed them. “I haven’t heard that at all,” said the source, who also (but only after a bit of pushing) said that Maude wasn’t going.

That said, no one at Number 10 seems very willing to defend Maude at the moment, or to say that he was not responsible in any way for what happened to Diane Hill. My sense is that they are still trying to work out how this story is going to play out. If it had not been George Galloway’s sensational win in Bradford West, Maude would probably be under a lot more pressure.

2.05pm: Diane Holland, the Unite assistant general secretary dealing with the tanker drivers’ dispute, was on the World at One. She began her interview by saying her thoughts were with Diane Hill, the woman injured in the York petrol accident, and she reaffirmed her hope that the talks with the haulage companies would lead to a settlement. (See 10.55am.)

She was also asked whether the fact that she is Labour’s treasurer was an embarrassment to the party. She responded with a very straight bat.

This is an industrial dispute. This is about finding an industrial solution to a really serious problem. As you’ve said, energy, fuel is vital to all parts of our economy. I think nobody would expect me to do anything but make this an absolute priority, to find an industrial solution to an industrial dispute.

2.16pm: My colleague Dan Milmo has been talking to tanker drivers this morning about their dispute. He’s sent me this.

I met a trio of fuel tanker drivers at Portishead, outside Bristol, this morning and they expressed relief that the talks are set to get underway.

Alan Taylor, 51, from Nailsea, said: “I am glad that the public will not be inconvenienced over Easter.”

Alan Jones, 53, from Portishead, added that one of the reasons for the strike vote was failure to get haulier companies involved in substantive talks over training and health & safety. “My initial reaction is that I am very pleased and relieved that it has been announced we are in discussions with Acas. We have striven for the past 12 months not to be in this situation and it is a relief amongst the vast majority of petrol tanker drivers that common sense seems to have prevailed.”

For fellow Portishead resident Dean Williams, 44, the dispute is a consequence of a “contract culture” that has seen the outsourcing of petrol delivery – by Asda, Shell, Tesco and the like – go hand-in-hand with relentless pressure on costs such as training and safety regimes. The drivers’ concern is that ultimately the contractual merry-go-round will bring in a new generation of ultra low-cost players.

All three, who are also Unite shop stewards, talk of drawing a line. “The changes that we have noticed, especially over the past five years, are due to the contract culture,” says Williams. “We used to be employed directly by oil companies. In 1995 I was employed directly by Esso but since then the contract culture has been driving costs down. The oil companies have contracted the work out to the point where it is an open market for anybody to come in and tender for the contracts. The biggest changes have been changes to health and safety, pensions and certain [contractual conditions].”

Obviously, this was not a broad sample of the views of 2,000 drivers but they carry out union duties and it is clear, from an hour-long interview, that pay is not their primary concern but upholding standards.

They said their issue is not a personal one with the new drivers coming in on tougher contracts with less safety training, but with the contractors overseeing the process. Safety and training are the most common refrains throughout the conversation. Referring to plans to build a nuclear power plant on the nearby Somerset coast at Hinkley Point, Alan Taylor adds: “Can you imagine Joe Bloggs going down to Hinkley Point with a few mates, asking for a job and getting one?”

2.20pm: David Cameron is chairing a meeting of Cobra, the government’s emergency committee, this afternoon to discuss the fuel crisis, according to Number 10.

2.22pm: The fuel crisis has helped to turn this into one of the worst week’s the government has had since the election.

My colleagues Simon Jenkins, Polly Toynbee, Toby Helm and Tom Clark discuss it here in the Politics Weekly podcast.

2.46pm: Francis Maude is not quitting, the Cabinet Office says. This is from a spokeswoman.

He is not resigning. I cannot be any clearer.

2.54pm: The Press Association has filed some comments from Margot Johnston, 86, who lives next door to Diane Hill, the woman in injured in the York petrol fire.

I had been gardening and came in to make myself a cup of tea and I was aware of a cloud of smoke coming over the hedge. I thought because it was a lovely day that they must be having a barbecue.

Then I noticed there was someone in the garden who seemed to be on fire. One of the daughters was in the garden and I said ‘Have you phoned for the ambulance?’ and she said she had. Even all through the war I had never seen anything like it.

Johnston told PA both of Hill’s daughters, Lauren and Grace, were in the garden at the time of the incident.

Diane had obviously got home and started to cook dinner while decanting petrol. Diane was conscious the whole time. They put her in the ambulance and took her away.

Asked whether the threat of strikes by oil tanker drivers or poor advice from the Government were to blame, Johnston said: “People are to blame for panicking, for panic-buying.”

2.59pm: The Conservative party’s attempt to turn the proposed fuel strike into a bad story for Labour, rather than a bad story for the government, has not been working out too well. But Lady Warsi (pictured), the Conservative co-chairman, has not given up. She has just released the text of a letter that she has sent to the 148 Labour MPs whose constituency parties get money from Unite. She is challenging them to condemn the proposed strike. Here’s an extract.

This strike is unnecessary and irresponsible. Fuel tanker drivers are paid around double what ordinary hauliers are paid and they are paid more than Army bomb disposal experts in Afghanistan, ambulance drivers and mid-level hospital doctors. And it would disrupt the lives of hardworking people in your constituency, harm businesses in your constituency and damage our economy.

Your constituency association has accepted funding from Unite. Given the trade union’s irresponsible action, will you publicly condemn the strike threat and refuse to take a penny more in donations from Unite until they call it off?

3.11pm: The Cobra meeting on the fuel crisis has finished, according to Sky. David Cameron is going to be broadcasting some comments shortly.

3.29pm: David Cameron has spoken to the BBC about the York petrol fire.

I’ll post more when I get it.

3.32pm: More from Cameron.

3.36pm: According to the Press Association, Diane Hill, the worman burnt in the York accident, was decanting petrol into a glass jug from a green jerry can.

3.42pm: Francis Maude is not resigning. (See 2.46pm.) But the Labour MP John Mann says he should. Mann has just put out this statement about Maude and the York fire.

This is precisely what the fire brigade warned against and the current panic is a direct result of Francis Maude’s rash and foolish reaction to negative press on pasties and Number 10 dinners. We are now in a position where a woman’s life has been placed in danger. Francis Maude should now be considering the consequences of his actions and do the decent thing and resign.

3.51pm: Left Foot Forward has a post from a fuel tanker driver who explains why he and his colleagues are ready to go on strike. Here’s an extract.

I’ve been doing this job for 18 years, and in that time I can only say things have never been worse. It is shocking to look back on how this business was once run and compare it with what happens today. Direct employment has ended, and standards have been stretched all the way down the supply chain. They’re at breaking point now …

Unlike water or gas, there is no regulator in fuel. The market rules. There is nothing requiring government to ensure supply is stable and safe. There are no minimum standards governing what the industry should do. This is why the industry is in danger of descending into chaos.

It is ripe for attack by cowboy operators, the small companies who hire and fire drivers, paying them £8-£9 per hour for a job they know ought to be paid £15 per hour …

It is certainly not a job that can be learned over night. Twenty years ago three months would be set aside to fully train a driver but industry fragmentation has pushed this down and down. Now we’ve got guys loading trucks not knowing what product is what. “Which one is unleaded?” I’ve been asked by someone about to take £50,000 worth of flammable liquid onto a public highway.

One time, a low cost driver even asked me how to unload the truck. He had only just been trained the day before, only just got his HGV licence – he had been driving buses previously.

4.00pm: Here’s an afternoon summary.

• David Cameron has renewed his call for Unite to call off the proposed tanker drivers’ strike. He did so in a brief clip to the BBC recorded after he chaired a meeting of Cobra, the government’s emergency committtee.

It is now clear that there will not be a strike for Easter and I’m sure the whole country will welcome that news. I think it is vitally important that the trade union in question enters those talks on Monday constructively and the most constructive thing they could do is call off the strike entirely and that would ease pressure in the system still further.

• Cameron has assured drivers that fuel companies are working “flat out” to resupply garages that have run out of fuel. He has also said the government is making contingency plans in case there is a strike.

The government will continue with its contingency plans. It’s absolutely vital that we take the necessary steps to keep the country safe in case there is a strike and I can tell people that the fuel companies are working flat out to resupply petrol stations. It is frustrating for people, I know, when petrol stations are closed and when there are queues. But everything that can be done is being done. But it will take some time.

• Cameron has said that his heart goes out to the women injured in the petrol fire in York. Asked if he had a message for the woman’s family, he replied:

This is obviously a desperate incident and a terrible thing that has happened to this woman and my heart goes out to her and her family and I know that everything than can be done is being done to try and help her at this time.

Cameron did not address the question of whether or not he thought Francis Maude was in any way responsible.

• The Cabinet Office has said that Maude will not resign. It put out a statement after rumours began to circulate on Twitter that Maude would resign this afternoon. The announcement has not stopped the Labour MP John Mann joining the chorus of those saying Maude should quit.

• The UK Petroleum Industry Association has described the fuel crisis as “self-inflicted insanity” in a leaked email to the Department for Energy, Sky has reported.

That’s it from me. Thanks for the comments.

5.27pm: Good evening. I’m Conal Urquhart and I’m taking over the fuel crisis blog.

5.34pm: Now you can find out what’s going on in your area. Over at the Guardian’s Datablog, they have used information provided by readers to produced a map detailing fuel shortages all over the country.

The AA has now launched an attack on drivers for “stupid and very dangerous” actions in storing fuel. The Press Association has filed this story.

In a statement, the motoring organisation said that in Macclesfield, Cheshire, one observer had seen an elderly woman using a petrol pump to fill jam jars.
“A lady about 75 was seen filling up 20 empty one-gallon paint tins with plastic lids and also a tray of jam jars in her boot with petrol. She had her boot up so the petrol station staff couldn’t see what she was doing.
“AA staff went over to her to stop her. Then station staff came out and prevented her from what she was doing. Her excuse was that ‘her husband did it every week’,” the organisation said.

Another man was seen at the same petrol station filling one gallon washing-up liquid bottles with fuel.
AA president Edmund King said: “Some people seem to have lost any sense of proportion. Petrol is a volatile liquid with highly inflammable vapours. Drivers should not be filling up any containers with petrol or we will see more tragic accidents.

“Now that there is no threat of strike over the Easter weekend we hope that things will get back to normal. There is no need for drivers to continue topping up their tanks as this puts too much pressure on the supply chain. Essential drivers have struggled to get fuel as many drivers with second or third cars have followed Government advice and topped up their tanks unnecessarily.
“Yesterday the AA experienced a 50% increase in call-outs to members running out of fuel. It can be very dangerous to run out of fuel on a motorway or indeed rural road but many drivers were stranded due to shortages.

“We plead with drivers who really don’t need to fill up to stay away from the pumps. The AA also stresses that drivers do not and should not hoard extra supplies of fuel in jerry cans or other containers. Hoarding fuel is dangerous and is not required.

“Let us hope for a weekend of calm after a quite barmy storm.”
The London Fire Brigade has also warned motorists that they risk breaking the law if they use jerry cans which are too large.
The law states that people should only store petrol in metal containers of a maximum of 10 litres or plastic containers of a maximum of five litres and people should have no more than two of each.
By law, all containers that are storing petrol must be designed for the purpose and they must be marked “petroleum” and “highly flammable”.
Ron Dobson, commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, said: “The maximum limit on petrol storage is there to protect the public and it is important that people know how much they are legally allowed to keep.”

Panic buying of fuel is restricted to the east side of the Irish Sea. According to The News Letter ,in Northern Ireland only four drivers voted for industrial action which probably reduces their bargaining power somewhat.

6.02pm: Sky reports that ambulances in Yorkshire are running short of petrol, citing a doctor that contacted them. Sky also quote Chris Hunt, the director-general of the UK Petroleum Industry Association, who describes the situation as “self-inflicted insanity”.

6.45pm: I have just spoken to the Department of Energy and Climate Change who assure me that there is no fuel shortage in the UK. “Forecourts are being replenished and there is no break in the supply chain. If a forecourt is closed, it will probably open when it is re-supplied,” according to a spokesman. “There is no need to queue. Queuing is causing additional disruption.”

If things do get worse, the department is well prepared. On their website is the Downstream Oil Resilience and Emergency Planning page. On it you can access a document of Emergency Response Tools and a Memorandum of Understanding between the government, oil companies and trade unions.

7.11pm: Tanker drivers are normally only allowed to work nine hours per day but the government has waived the rule to allow them to work for 11 hours until next Thursday according to the BBC. The rules were introduced by the European Union to prevent drivers carrying dangerous loads from falling asleep at the wheel and causing accidents. So to add to the cocktail of panic-buying and “self-inflicted insanity”, we now have tanker drivers exceeding the “safe” working limits.

7.24pm: John Swinney, the Scottish finance secretary, states that 97% of Scottish petrol stations have fuel and demand has only increased by 10%. The disruption that has been caused, “lies squarely with poor and confusing advice coming out of Whitehall over the last 48 hours,” he said.

7.38pm: I’ll bring this blog to a close by referring you to the latest stories on the fuel crisis. Andrew Sparrow has filed this on political aspect of the crisis while Dan Milmo has been speaking to tanker drivers in Portishead

Andrew Sparrow
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