Monday, April 2, 2012

The Government's emergency petrol plan is "not fit for purpose", retailers warn

FUELEAST_2179632b The National Emergency Plan - Fuels will be enacted by the Government if the UK is in danger of running out of petrol. Under the plan, around 700 of the UK's 8,500 forecourts will be designated as 'official' stations with instructions to prioritise sales to the emergency services.

However RMI Petrol, the trade body that represents independent petrol forecourts, has written to Energy Minister Ed Davey warning him that the Plan is inadequte and full of "flaws".

Petrol retailers argue that the Plan is so secretive that they will not know if they are a designated station until an emergency is actually called. They say that staff have not been trained, the plan has not been rehearsed, and they have not been told who to prioritise petrol to.

Retailers also argue that having only having only one or two 'official' outlets in each city will lead to far longer queues at forecourts as motorists scramble for any available petrol. The retailers argue that all available fuel should be shared equally between all stations.

"At present our retailers believe the National Emergency Plan - Fuels is not 'fit-for-purpose' in terms of forecourt operations," said Brian Madderson, the chairman of RMI Petrol, in the letter to Mr Davey.

The prospect of the National Emergency Plan being enacted came a step closer yesterday as up to half of the petrol stations in the UK were thought to be short of fuel following several days of panic buying last week.

The panic buying followed last week's vote for possible strike action by petrol delivery drivers. The panic was stoked by bungled advice from the Government telling people to top-up on fuel and fill jerry cans in case petrol runs low.

Mr Madderson's letter to Mr Davy went on: "It is hoped that the Plan does not have to be effected next week due to industrial action as the flaws will be readily observed by all."

Mr Madderson told The Daily Telegraph that the 'emergency' forecourts are picked by so-called regional resilence groups, which are chaired by local police authorities. However he said that retailers have been kept in the dark.

"The retailers have not been involved in the plan. There has been scant training. Our retailers are not confident that this scheme has been thought through," he said.

Forecourt operators warned that the enactment of the Plan will lead to greater chaos.

"It would be an unmitigated disaster. The sites have been selected without the knowledge of the operators. There has been no interaction with the fuel retailers," said Graham Kennedy, who runs two petrol stations in York.

The National Emergency Plan - Fuel has been developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and was last updated in 2009. A DECC spokesman said that details of the plan are not in the public domain for security reasons.

The spokesman said that sites that become 'Designated Filling Stations' would be notified by their owner if the Government decides to enact the Plan.

"Every effort is made to pre-nofity fuel retailers of those sites that have been pre-selected to operate as Designated Filling Stations in an emergency.. however in an emergency situation short-term changes to the list are sometimes made and the luxury of pre-notification is not always possible," the spokesman said.

In his letter to Mr Davey, Mr Madderson criticised the Government's handling of the situation.

"It is now very clear that Government created a crisis out of a concern, with some ill-conceived recommendations and complete lack of engagement with industry to prepare for possible strike action," he wrote.

He warned that the current shortage "could continue until at least the Easter weekend and possibly beyond" as forecourts wait for deliveries. It is not known at what stage the National Emergency Plan would be implemented.

Mr Madderson said that the UK's "energy resilience" is at a historically low level due to the almost halving of forecourt numbers in the UK since 1998. He also said that high levels of tax on petrol sales have meant that forecourts deliberately keep their stock levels low, which means that they run out of fuel more quickly than they otherwise would.

Research by RMI released yesterday found that between a third and a half of independent retailers had either no petrol, no diesel, or had run out of both.

On Wednesday last week Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, urged motorists to stock up on fuel at their homes ahead of a proposed strike by tanker drivers. He told Sky news: “When it makes sense, a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take.”

But his remarks prompted a wave of panic buying across the country with many petrol stations running out of fuel and thousands of drivers queuing for hours at the pumps.

In some cases retailers were forced to increase their prices leading to accusations that firms were seeking to profiteer from the shortage.

Referring to the price hikes, Mr Madderson argued most of his members were “sensible” when it came to having to adjust their prices.

He said that prices "are going crazy because several of our retailers have talked to their oil company suppliers who are unable to supply and have in a force majeure style arrangement agreed they can go out and source from third parties if they can find it".

He added: “We’ve got one member….in the midlands. He’s had approval to go out and source. He was selling unleaded at 137.9p, he's paid a fortune to get an extra load in, he’s now selling at £147.9p.

“Most of them will price sensibly because they want their loyal customers to keep on returning and if they see that there is profiteering by their local site they may well take evasive action in future.”

The Telegraph

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