Leaders: Inflammatory fuel advice puts government firmly in hot seat

IF THE UK government thought it was out of the fuel crisis woods, then the letter which Brian Madderson, chairman of RMI petrol, the representative body for independent forecourt fuel retailers, should tell them that it is still deep in the thickets of controversy.

This is the week that millions of people set off in their cars for a well-deserved break. According to Mr Madderson, the fuel shortage caused by last week’s government advice to panic-buy may well continue into the Easter weekend.

He maintains up to half of all independent garage sellers of fuel may have run out of supplies of either petrol or diesel, or both, at some point on Sunday. This is much higher than has been previously indicated, and suggests that there is a more significant problem in ensuring that there is enough fuel available to keep the nation’s economy motoring along than has been thought.

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The messages Mr Madderson has been receiving from retailers suggests that many are having acute difficulties in re-filling their tanks, some to the extent that they may not be able to resume sales until later this week. From the tenor of the comments, it is quite clear that retailers blame government statements for stoking up unnecessary panic and causing a needless rush to the pumps. From a ministerial point of view, this is bad enough. But much deeper woe will betide them if that turns into interfering with taxpayers’ enjoyment of a long holiday weekend.

But Mr Madderson points to a much deeper problem. The number of forecourts, he says, has fallen by as much as 40 per cent in the last dozen years. This implies the amount of fuel available for sale has also fallen, meaning in the event of a crisis which causes people to panic-buy, the available stock will become exhausted much more quickly.

Even this may under-estimate the problem. Mr Madderson points out that in order to make a living and cope with the problems caused by high fuel prices, many independent fuel retailers have had to resort to keeping their stocks at half-empty levels. This is because the amount of tax they have to pay on each delivery has reached such high levels – up to £25,000 per delivery – that they are unable to pay these upfront sums before getting their tax money paid back from sales to customers. Thus they have had to resort to a kind of just-enough-delivery-in-time system to meet normal sales. It may work well in normal times, but when a bit of pressure is put on this system, it breaks down completely, causing the kind of chaos seen at the weekend.

If the coalition government sought to divert attention from its problems over political donation revelations by raising the spectre of trade unions disrupting fuel supplies, then this effort at political spin has placed ministers in much deeper trouble. And if these latest disclosures cause another round of panic-buying, then it will quite clearly be the government that has to take the blame.

A just war, but not one to fight again

It seems now to belong to a different age, but for many the war to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentinian invaders is still fresh in the memory. From the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announcing the dispatch of the expeditionary force to a sombre House of Commons, through the conflict in the air, at sea, and on land, to the hoisting of the Union Flag in Port Stanley, the overall picture is of the remarkable success of Britain’s armed forces at the end of an 8,000-mile supply chain.

Scots, notably in the Scots Guards and 45 Commando, which took heavy casualties, played their role. It seems a pity that there is no commemoration in Scotland to match those south of the border yesterday in which their heroism and sacrifice can be properly marked but that is perhaps a matter best left to the judgment of the armed services and the relatives of those Scots who gave their lives in the conflict.

As the ceremony yesterday brings back memories, it is worth reflecting on the action, which some questioned. This war was entirely justified. Leaving the islanders to a dubious fate at the hands of the then Argentinian military junta would have been a gross betrayal of a people who are British through and through and an unforgivable acceptance that might is right.

But as the veterans and the relatives of those who died pay tribute, some may worry that the current and democratic Argentinian government seems no less committed to claiming control of the islands, and that without aircraft carriers, Britain could not repeat the feat of 1982. David Cameron says that Britain can and would. We hope that his claim never comes to be tested.

Cash for chores teaches kids a pocket lesson

What is the point of giving pocket money to children? Just to be nice to the apples of your eye, or is it what human resources professionals might, horribly, describe as a child management incentivisation tool? For many parents the answer to this is the latter, according to a survey.

A total of 84 per cent of mothers and fathers who give pocket money to their offspring revealed they ask their children to do household chores or tasks such as tidying their room before they hand over any cash, with only 16 per cent still handing out the readies regardless.

Some people might be concerned at the size of the majority who demand cleaning-for-cash deals from their sons and daughters or who only pay out when school homework has been completed and argue this taking tough love just a little too far.

Yet there is something to be gained, for both sides, in these kinds of deals. The children learn their parents are not just the bank of mum and dad, there to be fleeced whenever a new fashion item or computer game has to be purchased.

And the proud fathers and mothers get a bit of housework or homework done in return, while their progeny learn the valuable lesson that in life you rarely get anything for nothing.