Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he will “move heaven and earth” to fix the UK’s supply chain crisis and may draft in the military to deal with the lorry driver shortage that has seen some petrol stations close and others ration supplies.
Esso, BP and Tesco have all reported issues at their filling stations caused by supply shortages with long queues of motorists at forecourts all over the country, despite pleas from the government not to panic-buy.
Downing Street has insisted the disruption is related to driver shortages and not any lack of fuel supplies and urged people to “continue to buy fuel as normal”. The prime minister’s spokesman added that the government is “taking steps” to support industry while Shapps said: “With regard to things like whether there’s a role for military, obviously, if there is, if that actually helps, we’ll bring them in.”
Driver crisis is result of ‘a perfect storm’ says haulage chief
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the 100,000 shortage of HGV drivers has been worsened by Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing problems with pay and conditions. Rod McKenzie, the managing director of the RHA, said “a perfect storm” has led to the driver shortage and added that “more drivers [are] leaving the profession every week than [are] joining us”.
McKenzie told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve had a historic shortage of about 50,000 but add to that the 20,000 European drivers who left the industry because of Brexit, and a further 40,000 cancelled track and training tests.
“They were cancelled during the pandemic because of social distancing roles. And if you add all that together, it equals a perfect storm.”
Shapps resists calls to ease visa rules for HGV drivers
While some MPs and industry bosses have called on the government to ease visa restrictions and allow foreign HGV drivers to work in the UK, Shapps has resisted and though admitting there are “systemic problems”, he claimed the “principle bottleneck” has been the issue of testing for drivers given there were “none available during the coronavirus”.
Shapps told this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme (September 24) that DVLA closures caused by Covid has resulted in 40,000 fewer HGV drivers – and claimed Brexit has provided solutions to the crisis.
“The problem is global, and certainly across Europe,” said Shapps. “Rather than Brexit being the problem, actually Brexit has helped to provide some of the solutions… part of that has been changing things to do with the driving test, which we couldn’t have done within the EU.”
Shapps told Sky News, “we were unable to test 40,000 drivers during coronavirus” and added that current testing capacity has doubled when compared to pre-pandemic levels.
AA tells motorists not to stock-up
The AA (Automobile Association) has told motorists not to stock-up on fuel with president Edmund King saying that “even if the occasional petrol station is temporarily closed, others just down the road will be open.
“It is now clear that there have been occasional delays over recent weeks that have been managed with hardly anyone noticing. This was a manageable problem.”
King added that “road fuel demand is down to 92% of pre-pandemic levels according to monitoring by the government.”
He also revealed that “the average pump price of petrol has risen half a penny in the past two days when it should be 2.5p lower after cheaper E10 (10% ethanol) became the standard petrol on forecourts on 1 September.”