30/03/2012 03:09 BST | Updated 29/05/2012 06:12 BST

Fuel Tanker Strike: Ministers Hold Talks With Haulier Bosses As Panic-Buying Continues

Ministers will discuss emergency plans to deal with a tanker driver strike with haulier bosses today amid continued panic-buying at the pumps.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey will lead the talks as the government continues to face serious criticism of its handling of the threatened industrial action.

Conciliation talks aimed at heading off the walkout will not be held before Monday once initial contacts with the Unite union and the seven distribution firms have been concluded by Acas.

But despite any decision on strike action remaining some way off, long queues continued at many forecourts and some petrol stations were forced to close as motorists filled up, just in case.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents about 5,500 garages, blamed government advice, 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," a spokesman said.

"Deliveries are still being made to garages and we are advising people to continue with their normal buying habits."

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The Department of Energy and Climate Change said tomorrow's talks were to discuss what could be done to alleviate the effects of any strike.

"The meeting will focus on what the companies can do to help with contingency planning in the event that a strike is called by Unite," a spokeswoman said.

"There will be no discussions on the dispute itself.

"That is an industrial matter, and it is for the employers and unions to resolve their issues by getting around the negotiating table and talking."

Conciliation service Acas said its 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.

That process should be concluded by Monday and substantive discussions should follow shortly afterwards, Acas announced.

Panic-buying was reported yesterday across the UK, leading to long queues outside some garages and "sold out" or "food only" signs greeting car drivers.

Retail store Halfords reported "high" sales of fuel cans. Sales of all cans have soared by 225% compared with this time last year, with motorists buying in "the thousands", while sales of jerry cans are up by more than 500%.

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."

Meanwhile, the political row over the government's handling of the dispute continued to rage, with Labour describing it as "shambolic and shameful".

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "Politicians of all parties have a responsibility in these situations not to play politics but to urge the employers and the trade unions to get round the table."

Balls said Chancellor George Osborne was "worried about the economy faltering, he is worried about a Budget which has gone down badly, he wants an enemy, he wants somebody to blame, he wants to blame the Unite trade union".

Osborne said: "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.

"The government has a responsibility to everyone in this country to take sensible contingency plans and 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."