UK gas stations run dry as trucker shortage sparks hoarding

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of British gas stations ran dry Sunday, an industry group said, as motorists scrambled to fill up amid a supply disruption due to a shortage of truck drivers.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said about two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had sold out their fuel, with the rest “partly dry and running out soon.”

Association chairman Brian Madderson said the shortages were the result of “panic buying, pure and simple.” 

“There is plenty of fuel in this country, but it is in the wrong place for the motorists,” he told the BBC. “It is still in the terminals and the refineries.”

Long lines of vehicles formed at many gas stations over the weekend, and tempers frayed as some drivers waited for hours. Police were called to one London gas station Sunday after a scuffle broke out. Police said a man was arrested on suspicion of assault.

The haulage industry says the U.K. is short tens of thousands of truckers, due to a perfect storm of factors including the coronavirus pandemic, an aging workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Britain’s Brexit departure from the European Union last year. 

Several countries, including the United States and Germany, also are experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. The problem has been especially visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and shuttered gas pumps. 

After weeks of mounting pressure, the U.K.’s Conservative government announced Saturday that it will issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent a Christmas without turkey or toys for many British families. The government said it would issue 5,000 three-month visas for truck drivers starting in October, and another 5,500 for poultry workers. 

Industry groups welcomed the new visa plan, although the British Retail Consortium said it was “too little, too late.” 

Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the announcement was “the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.”

Plenty of fuel

The transport secretary has said there would be no fuel queues if motorists filled up as normal as he accused a haulage group of triggering the “manufactured situation”.

Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, Grant Shapps insisted there was “plenty of fuel” and urged the public to be “sensible” as some retailers were forced to shut their pumps and ration sales in the face of long lines at petrol stations for a third day.

Mr Shapps said: “I think the important thing to know is that within the country, at the six refineries and 47 storage facilities, there is plenty of fuel, there is no shortage of fuel within the country.

“So the most important thing is actually that if 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.”

The transport secretary also rounded on a haulage trade body, which he said had helped “spark” the crisis through “irresponsible briefings” to the public and claimed it was “desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries”.

Although Mr Shapps did not name the group, the Mail on Sunday reported a government source stating the Road Haulage Association was “entirely responsible for this panic and chaos”.

Denying the government had ignored warnings for months about a looming driver shortage, Mr Shapps said: “Let’s not pretend this is a UK-specific problem, it’s not.

“In Europe, for example in Poland, the shortage is 123,000 drivers, so there isn’t just one simple new point to axe off, there isn’t one simple solution to this, but we have, despite having had shortages, managed to ensure that petrol was still getting to petrol stations, food getting to the shops.

“I’m afraid there has been some pretty irresponsible briefing out by one of the road haulage associations, which has helped to spark a crisis, and that’s very, very unhelpful, it’s counterproductive.

“I know that they’re desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries, I know that’s been their ask all along.

What petrol retailers are saying

Tesco says it has a “good availability of fuel” and it is “working really hard to ensure regular deliveries to our petrol filling stations across the UK every day”.

Shell says in the face of increased demand some of its sites are “running low on some grades”, but added it was “replenishing these quickly, usually within 24 hours”.

ASDA has introduced a £30 limit per transaction on its forecourts to “ensure as many customers as possible can refuel” and reports “good levels of fuel supply” with deliveries continuing over the weekend.

Sainsbury’s reports “experiencing high demand for fuel” and is working closely with its supplier to maintain supply with all its sites continuing to receive fuel.

BP says “intense demand” at the pumps means around 30% of its 1,200 sites do not currently have either of the main grades of fuel and it was “working to resupply as rapidly as possible”.

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