HORSHAM’S MP Francis Maude this week defended the government’s preparations for a strike by fuel tanker drivers.
Last week, there were calls from some opposition MPs for him to step down as Cabinet Office minister after he called on motorists to stock up on petrol and diesel in case of shortages.
“When it makes sense, a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take,” he said on television last week, as a possible strike by delivery drivers loomed.
But speaking to the County Times this week he emphasized that the government’s contingency planning was absolutely the right thing to do.
He warned that a fuel strike “would be potentially crippling and that is why the Government is doing everything possible to protect the country.”
He explained that unions had only 28 days to take strike action from the time the result of a strike ballot is announced or they lose their mandate.
“The Government is pressing for the union and employers to negotiate, but the threat of a possible strike has not gone away.
“This strike action is wrong and unnecessary. We hope that the talks at Acas will succeed, but since the threat of action has not yet lifted the Government still needs to make contingency plans.”
These precautions included training the military to deliver fuel supplies to garage forecourts.
“Not taking precautions would have been utterly irresponsible of the government,” he stressed.
“If we hadn’t taken any steps we would rightly have been criticised for complacency.”
This week, there was more support from Health Secretary Andrew Lansley who defended the Government’’s and Mr Maude’’s handling of the threatened tanker drivers’ strike, and from Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said the country was much better placed to withstand a damaging strike than it had been a week earlier.