Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. It was contracted to BP.
  (Mr Mumford) We do have some drivers who pick up at Cardiff. If Cardiff is blocked there are some other terminals that we can go to. I am rather amazed by their comment.

  41. This was evidence from the Union which represents the drivers.
  (Mr Mumford) I would like to look into that specifically.

  42. You can write to us. I am more than happy for that to occur.
  (Mr Mumford) Yes.

Mr Chope

  43. Surely one of the issues was that the public supported overwhelmingly this protest and, not surprisingly, quite a lot of drivers felt that circumstances were intimidating because of the strength of public opinion in favour of the protest. There have been attempts to rewrite history since this protest and suggest that it was all because there was criminal behaviour and criminal intimidation but what really happened was that people protested very strongly at the fact that petrol taxes are more than double what they are in competitor countries, diesel taxes are two and a half times what they are in competitor countries, and that viewpoint is supported by the overwhelming mass of the population. That was what was "intimidating" and that was why many drivers decided that they would, in a sense, join the protest. Rather they did not feel intimidated for their lives or for their safety, they felt sympathy with the cause.
  (Mr Brinded) I would like to refute that. Right from the outset as far as I am concerned that was never an issue. The issue both for them and for us was always around safety and it was around intimidation. When we were satisfied about the level of policing and the policing had been discussed with the drivers, on no occasion did the drivers say they were not going. There is absolutely nothing behind your suggestion.

  44. Can I give you a specific one. That is on the Monday I phoned up the Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire when there was no fuel in my constituency, in Christchurch, and I said "Where is the rule of law being applied outside the Fawley refinery". He told me that it was perfectly possible for people to get in and out of the refinery if they wanted to and there was no intimidation, there was no policing issue. Then we went on to discuss how in any event the police can only police by consent and the big thing about this protest was that it was supported overwhelmingly by the people.
  (Mr Polkey) The issue is broader than just being able to get out of the terminal, it is the concern of being on the road and also discharging at the service stations. We worked very closely with the police at Fawley refinery. In fact, actually in terms of developing plans to be able to get trucks out we did not do that one evening on the recommendation of the police as extra protestors came in. We deferred that until the following day. That was in conjunction with the police working at the time. We tried throughout to move fuel out. I fully endorse all the comments about safety. We were conscious throughout that we wanted to get fuel out to our customers if it was safe to do so. I do not know whether you have any Esso comments but I would be very, very surprised.


  45. I have one here, Mr Polkey, in relation to a Fina Express driver who said that he had been requested to move from Jarrow and had his fellow protestors been requested to move from Jarrow from the Shell site there then they probably would have done so. The assumption, therefore, is that the supine attitude adopted by yourselves and the police, perhaps at your insistance, meant that the protest went on in ways that need not have happened. This was reported in the Commercial Motor of 12 October.
  (Mr Polkey) All the experience I have says that was not the case.
  (Mr Jones) Coming back to the safety culture that we try to build with our people. We run a programme called Stop. Stop just means that if you have any question about the safety of what you are doing the job stops. This is a culture, as has been mentioned before, that goes back many, many years. So for us it was not any surprise that our drivers stopped what they were doing and said "Let us understand how we are going to make this safe". I think, in fact, that when the drivers were convinced that the terminal gates, the roadways and forecourts were made safe they went back to work and they did deliver the product once we had assured them, working with the police, working with the local authorities, that the route was safe.

  46. Mr Brinded, that question about Jarrow should have been directed to you, I am sorry.
  (Mr Brinded) I would say right across the country we made sustained efforts to ensure the safety of our drivers. As I say, there was no instance that I know of where drivers were unwilling to drive once they were satisfied about the level of police protection that had been provided. We were basically, together with the drivers, in the lead with the discussions with the police about what level of policing would be necessary. I have talked about the 20 tankers that were cut up who had to take evasive action on the road. It was not just a question of outside with the blockades. Can I mention also there were scores of instances of personal abuse. You could say "Well, words will never hurt" but "We know where you live."—remember there was a very strong local content where a lot of the drivers were known to the protestors—"We know where you live. We will kill you. Your house will be fire bombed. We will publish your picture on the internet labelled as a paedophile", those are three extracts. The nice peaceful protestors, we need to be very careful they are not continually characterised as that. No doubt there was a significant number who were there for peaceful protest reasons but there were other elements present and that had a significant impact on the mood locally and, like all intimidation, it is something which gets around. There was a strong network between the drivers nationally as to what was happening and what level of safety was being provided locally for them.

Mr Baldry

  47. If there are to be future demonstrations of this kind the following apply. Firstly, you cannot say you are taken by surprise. You can never say again that you are going to be taken by surprise. On the other hand, the protestors now know that there are a comparatively small number of distribution centres around the country which if they succeed in closing can cause very substantial disruption. Everyone is better informed as a consequence of what has happened. Is the Committee to understand from what you have said that you are now satisfied that there are protocols in place with police forces up and down the country which would ensure if there are any further demonstrations that you could move fuel safely in and out of the distribution centres?
  (Mr Brinded) Yes, exactly what you say. I am not going to go into all the details of the security arrangements for obvious reasons. There are protocols in place, as you say, which would ensure that the level of policing was very quickly agreed, commensurate with the level of threat experienced locally and perceived threat. I think, therefore, it significantly increases the chances that we would be able to maintain continuity of supply but I think you always have to take account of what will the actual level of blockades and protests be. There is no doubt that the police and ourselves have plans which are much better crystallised and will be triggered much more quickly. There will be clear chains of command and communication. Those have been extensively discussed locally. We can all be much more confident but, I just want to stress again, it cannot be assumed that it will be business as usual. If we are in a situation where every tanker needs police escort and needs the police to be present at the site during unloading the whole operation will naturally be limited by the availability of resources to enable that to happen.

  48. There have been suggestions in the newspapers over the last few months that the Government is training members of the armed forces to driver petrol tankers. What would be your approach to the idea of members of the armed forces being used to distribute fuel?
  (Mr Brinded) I am answering because these are all Fuel Task Force questions and on the Fuel Task Force we have been involved together with Government. I think we would not see the use of the military drivers as part of the initial response to any repeat of the problems. In the event of the problems being prolonged and having a significant impact on national life that could happen. That would be a matter for Government to decide and to instruct us to allow the military drivers on our vehicles. I do not see it happening as part of the first response in any way.

  49. Just help me on this. A young driver in the Royal Logistic Corps, how can he drive a tanker any more safely or be expected to drive a tanker any more safely than one of your drivers?
  (Mr Brinded) I would suggest that the conditions in which the military are recruited, trained and deployed are different from those of commercially employed people. I can well imagine that there could be situations where you would say "This is not a situation where we can be absolutely sure of the safety of the drivers" and the use of the military might be something sensible to do at that point, depending on the impact on national life that was then prevailing. Certainly I do not see it as being one of the early measures in any way, it would be at the request of Government.

Helen Southworth

  50. Mr Jones, you commented on the culture of safety, I think we are pleased to hear the culture of safety is working so effectively. People do make decisions when they are concerned about safety. I think it is important to recognise that it is management's responsibility to tackle this. In fact, I would say one of the most significant factors is not in terms of whether we operate our industry, is not whether or not we stop, but whether or not we take action to deal with it and whether or not the problems are solved ahead of time, knowing the likelihood that incidents could arise. We see very clearly that you have some very serious safety concerns. Can we be assured that we will see very fast management action in the future should further incidents occur?
  (Mr Jones) I think, as has already been said, the Fuel Task Force and the working groups have been working these past weeks to ensure a faster response. Certainly the last one caught us by surprise. It took a bit of time to put together protocols, to put together working groups, to understand how to deal with the various situations and even to identify the stations that we would have open and what the priorities would be for services from those stations. That has all been done ahead of time now and I think we should be able to react much faster to any sort of situation now.

  51. Will there be communication and information sharing across the industry to make sure that happens?
  (Mr Brinded) Yes, absolutely. It is part of the response arrangements.

  52. Mr Mumford was saying that quite a lot of fuel was going out during the incident. Why did none of it come to my constituency and can you make sure that does not happen again?
  (Mr Mumford) Absolutely, if you let me know which is your constituency. If I could respond on that point. Panic buying was a major factor. The demand was running at a very, very high level. A lot of the stock outs occurred not because of shortage of supply but because of the panic buying situation.
  (Mr Polkey) I think that is an important point as well with the question Mr Butterfill asked. In terms of stocks in the service stations, panic buying will very quickly deplete service station stocks. I think even if you increase those you are still going to find very quickly the general public have a very high level of tank capacity if they decide to go out and fill it up. It sucks it up quickly and that is clearly what we saw through this period.
  (Mr Jones) In fact, one can do the calculation and see that there is more capacity in the customers' tanks around the country than there is in the forecourts. Whilst normally we would have three to five days' supply at a forecourt, if there is panic buying that can be depleted in a matter of hours.


  53. What is the capacity within the forecourts in the UK? Have you any idea?
  (Mr Jones) The total capacity—we could come to the number—normally a forecourt would have three to five days of fuel capacity for normal demand.
  (Mr Brinded) There is 67 days' supply at the terminals.

  54. How many vehicles are there in the UK at the present moment?
  (Mr Jones) 28 million.

  55. 28 million each with 50 litre capacity. We can get it down. 140 million litres we could store in our own cars if we did not move.
  (Mr Brinded) 1.4 billion.

Mr Butterfill

  56. What do you think the impact of this particular crisis overall and panic buying has been on the profitability of your companies? Presumably you had some benefit from the cash flow.
  (Mr Codd) Absolutely not. It has had a very negative effect.

  57. Why?
  (Mr Codd) You have to remember it was not just a question of demand shifting, people stopped driving. There was an absolute loss in fuel sales.

  58. How can there be an absolute loss in fuel sales when all filling stations were hoovered dry of fuel in the space of a day?
  (Mr Codd) Just consider the week, in that week there were considerably less car miles undertaken in the UK than in a normal week. Those are lost miles, that is lost fuel consumption.

  59. There is real evidence of that? Can you give us figures?
  (Mr Codd) We can try and give you an estimate afterwards.
  (Mr Jones) The figures are not available for another quarter so it will be some time before we have industry figures together. Clearly I think when we all look at our own records we see September was going to be a very low demand month.

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