Show Hide image

Army to supply fuel if tanker drivers strike

Government wants to avoid a repeat of the fuel protests in 2000.

The government is training hundreds of soldiers to transport fuel in the event that petrol drivers go on strike.

A group of about 2,000 drivers - representing 90 per cent of those who deliver fuel in the UK - is expected to announce later today whether it will strike, which could happen as early as 3 April, ahead of the Easter weekend.

Driver's union Unite, the UK's largest trade union, started to organize drivers from seven different companies - BP, DHL, Hoyer, J.W. Suckling, Norbert Dentressangle, Turners and Wincanton - three weeks ago.

The government is trying to avoid the chaos that ensued following the UK fuel protests in 2000.

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, said:

We are calling on the trade union Unite and the employers involved to work together to reach an agreement that will avert industrial action. Widespread strike action affecting fuel supply at our supermarkets, garages and airports could cause disruption across the country.

If the strike goes ahead, soldiers will transport petrol from refineries and police will be dispatched to distribution centres to prevent blockades.

The price of unleaded petrol in the UK has risen more than 50 per cent over the last two years.

In 2008, tanker drivers at Hoyer and Suckling won a 14 per cent pay raise after a four-day strike.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has not publicly commented on the looming strike.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.