Crisis for fuel-starved services

14 Sep 00
Local authorities were trying to pick up the pieces of disrupted services as fuel began to trickle slowly back into garages and council depots after the government's ultimatum to petrol companies to move supplies out of storage centres.

15 September 2000

Sir Jeremy Beecham, the Local Government Association chairman, said: 'Millions of people across Britain, from housebound pensioners to schoolchildren, depend on councils to provide a range of vital services. We are calling on the government to ensure they use any emergency powers at their disposal to direct fuel resources to support these services.'

But with protests at high fuel prices continuing nationwide, Health Secretary Alan Milburn put the National Health Service on full red alert – the highest category of crisis – on September 13.

Many hospitals had been forced to cancel non-urgent operations and most ambulance services were answering only emergency calls. Restrictions were set to continue, despite the government's hope that the country would return to normal within 24 hours following Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement on September 12.

Milburn said those involved in the petrol blockades had to be aware that their action was hitting the emergency services and that the crisis in the NHS was increasing by the hour.

The Department of Health issued a warning saying that the NHS was under 'massive pressure' and lives could be at risk. Pressures on accident and emergency departments were not expected to ease quickly.

David Jones, from the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: 'We rely on local garages. We have had to go to the police and fire service to try and work out some bunkering facilities with those.'

There was growing concern that public sector staff would be unable to get to work. Bus companies across the country said they would be forced to cancel some services by the end of the week if fuel supplies did not arrive.

In London, the buses were kept running when Mayor Ken Livingstone agreed with the government to put London Transport on the list of bodies to be kept supplied.

Lord Toby Harris, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said the force had a contingency supply of fuel and was helping other emergency services. London Fire Service said it had fuel to last four to five weeks.

In Leeds, the City Council suspended all refuse collections on September 13, having already called a halt to non-essential services, such as highway maintenance, street cleaning and mobile libraries.

Chief executive Paul Rogerson said his priority was to sustain key services in the city, such as schools and social services. 'By taking these measures, the council believes it will be possible to secure the continued provision of all essential and emergency services until the end of next week,' he added.


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