What is causing the UK crisis in petrol supplies?

First it was Nando’s chicken, then McDonald’s milkshakes and Ikea mattresses. Now petrol stations have started rationing as the impact of the chronic lorry driver shortage widens. What is causing the crisis in petrol supplies and what are the solutions – and is there any reason to panic?

What is causing the forecourt crisis?

It is not lack of petrol but a lack of HGV drivers that is hitting supply chains across the country. The shortage is compounded by the need for a separate qualification needed to deliver hazardous substances.

The government is urging people not to panic-buy. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said people should “carry on as normal”.

But with echoes of last March’s lockdown stockpiling, people are ignoring the government. Long queues started building in some forecourt stations on Friday.

Are the supply chain issues really that bad?

Three of the UK’s biggest operators of petrol states have warned of fuel shortages with BP, saying up to 100 of its stations were short of at least one grade of fuel and several forced to close entirely. However, this is a fraction of its 1,200 strong forecourt network. Esso owner Exxon Mobile said a “small number” of its Tesco forecourts had been affected.

Where is being felt most?

Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), said some sites were experiencing delays, particularly those in London and the south-east of England.

What is the industry doing?

BP said it was cutting deliveries to about 90% of its stations in an attempt to distribute supplies evenly. The PRA is urging people not to panic-buy, but advising drivers to keep their tanks at least a quarter full in case they have to drive to another station to fill up.

How bad are the lorry driver shortages?

The industry estimates there is a gap of 100,000 lorry drivers partly due to Covid and partly Brexit. About 25,000 HGV drivers from the EU left during 2020 and did not return, and there is a backlog of 40,000 waiting to take their HGV tests. The Road Haulage Association says the government is not taking the problem seriously enough. “The average age of a truck driver in the UK is 57, every day this problem is just getting worse as more and more retire,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the RHA.

What are the solutions?

The freight and logistics sector have been pleading with the government for months to introduce a temporary immigration waiver for drivers not just in Europe but across the world to help alleviate the shortage.

Logistics UK, which represents freight owners, points out that there are eight different short term work visa schemes for various sectors ranging from farming to sports and religious employees.

But the government has rejected their calls arguing thatpaying and training British truck drivers is the solution. Industry statistics show that there has been a shortage in the sector for a decade as drivers move to more attractive careers. Driving in the UK is seen as even less attractive than it is on the continent because of the lack of specialised facilities including toilets, showers and canteens.

Last October, the Conservative MP Karl McCartney told the transport select committee of a “proliferation of bottles that look like they’re filled with Irn-Bru but they’re not” discarded by truckers on laybys where they were forced to take their mandatory breaks because of the paucity of lorry stops.

How long might the trucker shortage last?

Logistics UK has said even with efforts to intensify HGV testing with test sites open at weekends, the shortfall could not be cleared until spring next year, leading to fears over Christmas food, trees and turkey shortages.

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