HUNDREDS of soldiers are being lined up to ensure fuel deliveries from Hamble and Hythe don’t grind to a halt from a strike threatened by petrol tanker drivers next month.

The results of a ballot of 2,000 tanker drivers, who account for 90 per cent of those delivering fuel to petrol forecourts, are expected today and a strike could begin from April 3. But contingency plans are in place that could see soldiers being drafted in to drive tankers and police preventing blockades.

The Unite union has warned a strike of tanker drivers could hit petrol supplies at supermarkets, garages and airports across the country.

Industrial action could affect supplies from the Esso Hythe terminal near Hardley and BP fuel terminal at Hamble.

Neither firm would comment ahead of today’s announcement.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the Government had “learnt the lessons”

of the past and stood “ready to act”

if members of the Unite union walk out.

“The general public should not and must not suffer from this dispute and strike action is manifestly not the answer,” he said. “Although we are pushing for an agreement, we have learnt the lessons of the past and stand ready to act to minimise disruption to motorists, to industry and, in particular, to our emergency services, in the event of a strike.”

Unite said its members working for seven major fuel distribution firms will be balloted.

Mr Maude appealed to the union and employers, including DHL and BP, to come to an agreement that averts industrial action.

Unite said there had been “unrelenting attacks”on drivers’ terms and conditions, adding that it had been trying to establish a forum to agree industry-wide best practice on issues such as safety and training.