The British government is said to be considering whether to call in soldiers to deliver fuel to petrol stations as pumps ran out after days of panic buying.
The emergency measures were triggered Sunday night, as Business Minister Kwasi Koarting opted to suspend competition laws for the fuel industry to allow suppliers to target fuel stations that were running low.
Several reports have suggested that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will today consider whether to follow through by taking the drastic step of sending the army to drive tankers as he added “overheating” to fuel supply problems caused by a shortage of heavy truck drivers.
Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps refused to rule out a request for military assistance after queues for pumps continued across the country into the weekend.
Shapps has already backtracked on its reluctance to import foreign labor to solve the shortage of heavy-duty truck drivers by creating 5,000 three-month visas to bring in more carriers to tackle delivery pressures.
The cabinet minister told the BBC the move would fix the shortage of “100 to 200” fuel tank drivers, urging motorists to be “reasonable” and fill up only when needed to help ease queues.
Long waits at gas stations saw police called to a brawl in a north London front yard as motorists continued to buy into the panic that erupted after concerns from BP were leaked to the media that a truck driver shortage could affect its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries.
The surge in demand led the Petroleum Retailers Association (PRA) to warn that up to two-thirds of its roughly 5,500 independent outlets ran out of fuel on Sunday, with a “partial drought” and “soon to run out of fuel.”
Concern about depleted stocks led the business secretary to take action after a meeting with oil companies and retailers on Sunday.
Kwarteng has chosen to temporarily exempt the industry from competition law to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas with low fuel supply.
Citing what is known as the downstream oil protocol, Mr Kwarteng said, “While there has always been an abundance of fuel in refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues in the supply chains.
“That is why we will enact the protocol to ensure that the industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimized.”
In a separate joint statement from the likes of Shell, ExxonMobil and Greenergy, the industry reiterated that supply pressures are caused by “temporary surges in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel.”
PRA chief Brian Maderson – who has described the purchase price as “frenetic” – told the BBC that closing the front yard and depleted pumps was down to “panic buying, plain and simple”.
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He said oil companies are prioritizing refills for highway service stations, with one of the stops reporting a 500% increase in demand compared to last week as road users flock to fill their tanks.
As part of the government’s efforts to ease pressures from the wider supply chain, 5,500 foreign worker visas will also be provided to the poultry sector as it strives to ensure a healthy selection of turkeys are available for Christmas dinners.
But retailers warned that the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply chain problems was “too little, too late” to keep store shelves fully stocked in December.
The British Retail Consortium’s director, Andrew Obi, said the truck driver shortage meant “we won’t be able to put all the products on the shelves we would have liked”.
Shapps said the visas were “only one component” of the government’s relief plan, as he acknowledged that efforts to rebuild the local shipping force could take years.
The package of measures includes ambitions to train an additional 4,000 truck drivers, while the military is drafted to offer additional HGV driving tests to reduce the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.
Nearly a million letters will also be handed over to the stacks of people with HGV licenses in the coming days to incentivize them to return to the job now that wages are high.
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