Reuters/AFP/ Brighton, England
Transport Minister Grant Shapps yesterday called on Britons to behave normally when buying petrol, saying there was no shortage of fuel and the government was stepping in to ease a shortage of drivers bringing it to petrol stations.
In recent days long lines of vehicles have formed at petrol stations as motorists waited, some for hours, to fill up with fuel after oil firms reported a lack of drivers was causing transport problems from refineries to forecourts.
Some operators have had to ration supplies and others to close gas stations.
“There’s plenty of fuel, there’s no shortage of the fuel within the country,” he told Sky News.
“So the most important thing is actually that people carry on as they normally would and fill up their cars when they normally would, then you won’t have queues and you won’t have shortages at the pump either.”
Shapps said the shortage of drivers was down to Covid-19 disrupting the qualification process for drivers, preventing new labour from entering the market.
Others pinned the blame on Brexit and poor working conditions forcing out foreign drivers.
The government yesterday announced a plan to issue temporary visas for 5,000 foreign truck drivers.
The short-term visas are to run from next month until late December.
The decision to expand the critical worker visa scheme is a reversal by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government had tightened post-Brexit immigration rules insisting that Britain’s reliance on foreign labour must end.
It had resisted the move for months, despite an estimated shortage of around 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers and warnings from various sectors that supplies would run short.
Shapps nevertheless insisted he was taking action “at the earliest opportunity” and that a broader package of measures announced would ensure pre-Christmas preparations “remain on track”.
“The industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers,” he added.
But business leaders have warned the government’s plan is short-term fix and will not solve an acute labour shortage that risks major disruption beyond fuel deliveries.
Shapps called the panic over fuel a ‘manufactured situation’ and blamed it on a hauliers’ association.
“They’re desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries,” he said.
An opinion poll published in the Observer newspaper yesterday said that 67% of voters believe the government has handled the crisis badly.
A majority of 68% said that Brexit was partly to blame.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, speaking at his party’s annual conference in southern England, said ministers had failed to plan for labour shortages following the 2016 Brexit vote and called for a bigger temporary visa scheme.
Nearly third of fuel stations empty: BP
BP said nearly a third of its British petrol stations had run out of the two main grades of fuel yesterday as panic buying continued despite the government pleading with motorists to behave normally and insisting there was no fundamental shortage. “With the intense demand seen over the past two days, we estimate that around 30% of sites in this network do not currently have either of the main grades of fuel,” BP, which operates 1,200 sites in Britain, said in statement.
“We are working to resupply as rapidly as possible.” Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell said that it has been seeing increased demand across its UK fuel stations since Friday, leading to a shortage of supplies of some grades of fuel.
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