Tanker drivers' dispute demands efficient action

29 March 2012
It’s all over the news this morning about Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude making his jerry can comment - that to prepare for the oil tanker strike, people should store petrol at home (even though a jerry can holds 20 litres, which is above the limit of fuel that can be stored at home). Maude runs the risk of perhaps being too honest. He, like other ministers, needs to think carefully about the message being sent.    It was nearly 40 years ago when a miners’ strike led to the UK government imposing a three-day week on all offices and factories. Since then, we have had an unprecedented period of global supply chain stability, though rumblings over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme and the continuing turmoil in some Middle Eastern countries should be enough to cause some concern. The UK economy is immensely dependent on imported oil and gas and few companies have much in the way of reserves. This vulnerability is clearly recognised by the UK government. Arguments against the building of expensive alternatives to oil and gas fell on stony ground when Labour was in power and the policy of creating alternative sources of supply is clearly a key part of the present government’s energy strategy. This week’s vote for strike action by oil tanker drivers, who are members of the Unite union, highlights the vulnerability of supply chains. Were the tanker drivers’ strike to go ahead and last for any length of time, the government would have to take some tough measures. Calling in the army would not be enough and, arguably, only the more essential users might have access to fuel. These would include ambulances, police and fire brigades. They would also include food stores. Clothes shops and car manufacturers might be lower down the list of priorities. Let’s not be overly dramatic. These disputes are usually resolved before a strike takes place. However, given the instability in some of the key oil and gas producing regions of the world, procurement professionals should be working with the operational people in their organisations to identify technologies and opportunities that require much lower consumption of petrol and gas than at present and which would enable their organisations to weather any storms. Who knows, using less fossil fuel might even reduce costs and create competitive advantage. As a final thought, how dependent are we on other long global supply chains that could be vulnerable to political instability? It doesn’t bear thinking about. ☛ Colin Cram is managing director at consultancy Marc1 and a fellow of CIPS.
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