Carry on and Cover up

Don’t say ‘panic’ amid fuel crisis, Cabinet Office warns councils

By Ben Weisz

The government has advised councils not to use the phrases “panic” or “panic buying” about fuel supply problems, documents seen by the BBC reveal.

Slides prepared by the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Science Team also advised against using language that morally judges people buying petrol.

A Green Party council leader called the recommendations “nonsensical”.

The government said it worked “closely with councils… on communications to encourage a co-ordinated response.”

The advice sent to local authorities from central government comes after days of long queues at petrol stations which began after fears a lorry driver shortage would hit fuel supplies triggered a surge in demand.

On Wednesday the government deployed a reserve tanker feet to boost deliveries and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted the situation was “stabilising”.

In a power point presentation marked “official sensitive” the Cabinet Office warns against using the terms “panic”, “panic buying” and “stockpiling”.

The document – labelled “considerations for local authorities” – explains that people don’t recognise their own behaviour as “panic buying” and that the use of such phrases can cause panic which can become contagious.

Instead it recommends using phrases like “filling up earlier than usual” or “changed patterns in demand”.

Other tips include avoiding language that morally judges those queuing for petrol as “framing all individuals who stock up as ‘selfish’ or ‘irrational’ is likely to receive some backlash”.

“Framing people buying excess fuel as ‘taking away from those who need it/ the NHS etc.’ is likely to lead to them feeling like their freedom has been threatened, leading them to more readily engage in ‘panic buying’ behaviour,” the document says.

The advice also says councils could encourage petrol stations to take down signs saying “abuse will not be tolerated” – which could lead customers to expect confrontation on arrival.

Speaking to BBC Radio Sussex, Phélim Mac Cafferty, the Green Party leader of Brighton and Hove City Council said the recommendations amounted to asking councils to “help the government cover up the fuel crisis”.

“Instead of guidance to help us, help our communities navigate the fuel crisis, we have been given platitudes.

“This is beyond not good enough. It’s a disgrace.”

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