On Wednesday, in a statement British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, the government was preparing to ensure fuel supply chains were running smoothly for the run-up to Christmas as he tried to quell public fears of panic buying of fuel which left fuel pumps dry across major cities.
The situation at gas stations was improving, said Johnson. However in many regions, hundreds of forecourts remained closed and motorists spent hours searching for fuel or sat waiting in queues waiting to fill their tanks.
“We now are starting to see the situation improve. We are hearing from industry that supplies are coming back onto the forecourt in the normal way and I would just really urge everybody to go about their business in the normal way,” said Johnson.
The fuel crisis engulfing Britain, the world’s fifth-largest economy, was the result of a shortage of truck drivers which caused a strain in supply chains and created a spike in European wholesale natural gas prices tipping energy companies into bankruptcy.
The post-Brexit dearth of truck drivers has been exacerbated by a halt to truck-driving-licence testing during COVID lockdowns as well as people leaving the haulage industry, all of which has sown chaos through supply chains and raised the spectre of widespread shortages, raising price of gasoline ahead of Christmas, fueling inflation.
“What we want to do is make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through until Christmas and beyond, not just in supplying the petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain,” said Johnson.
In order to mitigate the shortage of truck drivers, the British government was forced to bring in measures including issuing temporary visas to 5,000 foreign drivers. It has also put a limited number of military tanker drivers on standby who will be deployed, if necessary.
According to petrol stations, fuel retailers and truck drivers, there are no quick fixes to the problem, since the shortfall of truck drivers, estimated at about 100,000, is acute. Also, transporting fuel demands additional training as well as licensing.
Ministers want businesses to pay more to truckers as well as offer better conditions, rather than count on cheap imported labour.
“What I don’t think people in this country want to do is fix all our problems with uncontrolled immigration again,” said Johnson. “We tried that for a long time… and in the end people could see it was leading to a low-wage, low-skill approach.”
According to industry groups, the worst shortages of fuel are in in London.
Fights have broken out at some fuel stations with people jostling for fuel; pictures and videos on social media show people filling up old water bottles with fuel.
“I can’t believe it – it’s crazy,” said David Scade, a 33-year-old delivery driver who drove for hours searching for fuel in London. “They keep saying there is no shortage but I suppose everyone is panicking now.”
According to the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent fuel retailers who account for 65% of all the 8,380 UK forecourts, there were signs the crisis was abating.
“We have conducted a survey of our members this morning and only 37% of forecourts have reported being out of fuel today,” said Gordon Balmer, PRA’s executive director.
“With regular restocks taking place, this percentage is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours,” said Balmer.
Logistic companies, retailers, and truck drivers have warned that prices for everything will rise because of the shortage of truck drivers.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has urged the government to broaden the size and scope of its temporary visa scheme. “It will take many months before there are enough new British drivers to cover the shortfall,” said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC.