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  1. ITV Report

Pumps run dry as panic spreads

Garages in Brighton are already running out of petrol Photo: ITV Meridian

Sales of petrol and diesel increased dramatically yesterday as motorists flocked to garages to fill up following controversial advice from the Government ahead of a possible strike by fuel tanker drivers.

Petrol sales shot up by 81% and diesel by 43%, according to the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents around 5,500 garages across the UK.

A spokesman blamed advice from the Government on keeping tanks topped up, including the much-criticised call by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to fill up jerry cans.

"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."

Moves to start peace talks aimed at averting a strike will be stepped up today, with the conciliation service Acas trying to arrange a meeting between the Unite union and seven companies involved in the dispute.

Unite will have to give seven days' notice of any industrial action, so it was looking increasingly unlikely that strikes will be threatened over Easter.

The AA said current 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."

"Theoretically if 30 million cars with half full tanks are advised to fill up over 24 hours, this means that 750 million litres of fuel would be sold, whereas average sales over 24 hours would be 90 million litres. Hence the top-up advice means that demand for fuel has increased more than seven-fold. So it is no surprise that the "top-up" advice has lead to shortages."

Labour accused the Government of playing "political games" over the issue, following days of bad headlines over the Budget and dinners for Tory donors.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband called on Prime Minister David Cameron and Mr Maude to apologise for their handling of the situation.

"The Prime Minister is presiding over a shambles on petrol. The country is paying the price for the incompetent way he is governing.

"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.

"Being able to fill your car up or worrying about how you will get to work is not something that should be subject to political games."

Energy Secretary Ed Davey urged people to take "precautions", and defended Mr Maude's handling of the situation.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Francis has been playing a key role in getting the Government's preparations ready.

"If you are at the meetings that I'm at with Francis Maude, with Liberal Democrat colleagues and Conservative colleagues, we've come together really strongly to make sure our country, our economy, isn't hit by what could be a damaging strike.

"People should take precautions, just in the way the Government has taken precautions doing some sensible planning."

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