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Talks urged to avert tanker strike

Downing Street has urged unions and oil companies to get round the table for talks to prevent a tanker drivers' strike, as senior ministers met to draw up contingency plans to keep vital services moving.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his Cabinet were briefed on plans to put military personnel through an eight-day training course to take the place of striking drivers behind the wheel of commercial tankers. But Downing Street said the training has not yet started as discussions with companies are still under way.

Asked whether motorists would be well-advised to rush to the petrol stations and fill up their tanks in the wake of the overwhelming vote for industrial action, a Number 10 spokeswoman said: "I think people should draw their own conclusions."

And she added: "Businesses and those who rely on vehicles for their work should ensure contingency plans are in place. It is always prudent to have contingency plans in place."

The spokeswoman said that the Government was sending out a "strong message" to both sides in the dispute that they should "get round the table and discuss this, because a strike and the disruption that would follow is in nobody's interests, particularly the UK economy's".

Around 2,000 members of the Unite union at seven companies were balloted for the first national campaign of action for over a decade, with those at five firms backing walkouts.

The union said strikes were supported by an average of 69% in the five firms, which deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages as well as supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's. Unite drivers supply fuel to 90% of the UK's forecourts and the union said a strike could close up to 7,900 petrol stations.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude briefed colleagues on the Government's preparations to deal with any strike at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet, which followed a meeting of senior ministers from the departments of transport, energy and environment, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Maude said the Government had "learnt the lessons" of the previous disruption to petrol supplies in 2000, when pumps ran dry around the country, and was putting plans in place to keep Britain moving, but acknowledged that there was still "more work to be done".

The Downing Street spokeswoman added: "This is a dispute between an employer and employees, but clearly the ramifications if there is a strike are that there will be disruption and the Government is taking all the contingency plans we can, including ensuring that emergency services are in a good position should there be an impact on fuel distribution."

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