Back in the 1970s and the three-day week, Conservative minister Patrick Jenkin famously advised voters to brush their teeth in the dark. Francis Maude’s advice to fill a jerry can approaches the same fatuous level. Secretary of State Ed Davey got it much better when he said just use your common sense, but the damage was done.
Overall the government has made a thorough pig’s ear of handling the communications round the possibility of a tanker driver strike. They’ve created a wholly unnecessary panic. It is difficult not to have a suspicion that this was a cack-handed attempt by Conservative members of the coalition to draw attention away from the row over Conservative donations, but it is astonishing that they failed to see the likely consequences.
As it happens I’ve just half-filled my tank with diesel (I hasten to write not a “top-up”, it was almost empty with the yellow warning light showing) – and I have to report that the queues were no longer than usual at Sainsburys in Marshalswick (see picture), though I did see one customer with a jerry can.
I am glad that Ed Davey has asked ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) to mediate between drivers and employers. When I worked in the oil industry years ago, tanker drivers regularly held oil companies to ransom with threats of industrial action, and so this part of the business was steadily out-sourced to independent haulage companies such as Wincanton.
If there is a tension between cost-saving and safety, safety must come first, and the steady disintegration of a formerly integrated oil industry with each individual part of the supply chain having to make money on a standalone basis could make for problems which a neutral player like ACAS might be able to unpick.
It’s good news that an Easter stike has now been ruled out. Lets hope ACAS helps achieve a settlement without any recourse to industrial action. In the meantime I will continue to use my common sense in refilling my tank.
PS When I went to Three Counties Radio in Luton to be part of the panel on Drivetime yesterday and we were asked about this, I noted that there was a van in the car park with the words Horses in Transit on the side. Looks like the BBC is getting prepared.