Minister criticised for encouraging fuel strike panic

Francis Maude has been criticised for telling motorists to stock up on fuel in "jerry cans" today, ahead of a potential strike.

The Cabinet Office minister, who on Monday won plaudits for addressing the cash-for-access scandal in the Commons, was widely attacked for encouraging panic-buying ahead of a possible Easter strike.

"There is a risk to fuel supplies," he told Sky News this morning.

"There is no need for rushing around in mad dash. As and when it makes sense, a bit of petrol in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take."

The Fire Brigades Union urged members of the public to ignore the minister's advice.

"This is not sensible advice and people should be discouraged from doing so," they said in a statement.

"The general public does not properly understand the fire and explosion risk of storing fuel even if it was done sensibly.

"It is already against the law to store more than ten litres of petrol in two proper five litre plastic containers in the home."

The confusing message is just the latest instance of a government response which has been criticised as overly shrill by Labour, oil company Esso and the AA.

The prime minister chaired a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee today, although there was even confusion over that arrangement.

Officials said the meeting was merely being held in Cabinet Office Meeting Room A, the location which gives Cobra its name. The prime minister later suggested it was an official Cobra meeting.

"No one wants a strike and no date has been set for one, however, the government does have to prepare for the possibility that there will be a strike," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Some believe the coordination meetings are necessary to prepare for a possible fuel shortage over the Easter break, but others have accused the government of embracing the potential strike as useful political dividing line with Labour.