Drafting in the Army will not end fuel crisis, industry warns

Drafting in the Army to deliver fuel to petrol stations will not on its own end the shortages on the forecourt, the industry has warned.

Boris Johnson is thought to be considering sending in troops to drive oil tankers after days of panic buying saw filling stations in many areas run dry.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chairman Brian Madderson confirmed some training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel.

But he warned it was not an “absolute panacea” and that there was no “single lever” the Government and the industry could pull to resolve the crisis.

With long queues at filling stations continuing over the weekend, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced on Sunday he was temporarily suspending competition laws to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

The move came after Mr Johnson said the Government was creating 5,000 three-month visas for foreign lorry drivers in an attempt to ease the pressure on hauliers which has been blamed over the problems.

A statement by Shell, ExxonMobile and other industry bodies again insisted there was no “national shortage of fuel” and that the pressures on supply were the result of “temporary spikes in customer demand”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering whether to send the Army in to drive fuel trucks amid a shortage driven by panic buying
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly due to consider whether to send the Army in to drive fuel trucks amid a shortage driven by panic buying (Jeff Mitchell/PA)

But with no immediate sign of the problem easing, Mr Johnson is reported to be holding a series of meetings to consider whether to activate the military for Operation Escalin.

However, Mr Madderson said it was not just a question of moving supplies to the filling stations as drivers had to load up their tanks at the gantry at the terminal, which was a skilled job.

“There has been training going on in the background for military personnel,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But that’s perhaps just confined to moving the tanker by articulated truck from point A to point B.

“One of the difficulties is loading, and the tanker drivers currently load their own tanks at the gantry at the terminals, and then most are providing the delivery to the forecourt.”

“This is a skilled job and we will be working with Government and industry to see how we can best move it forward.”

He said that he hoped the oil companies would be able to find extra personnel to help with the gantry loading.

He added, however: “It’s not an absolute panacea.

“There is no one single lever that is going to be pulled by Government and industry together which is going to sort this situation. It’s a matter of small levers, each contributing a little going forward.”

The panic buying spree was sparked last week after concerns from BP were leaked that the shortage of lorry drivers could impact upon its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The surge in demand led the PRA to warn that as many as two thirds of its membership of nearly 5,500 independent outlets were out of fuel on Sunday, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”.

For Labour, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the haulage industry had been warning for months about the shortage of drivers, but ministers had simply ignored them.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Since last year I have been meeting and talking with the Road Haulage Association and hauliers about some of the problems coming down the line.

Lorry driver shortage
A petrol station in Sheffield which is closed due to having no fuel (Danny Lawson/PA)

“The Government ignored those problems, which is why we are now facing the situation where people go to the supermarkets and see shortages of goods on the shelves, and why they are queuing up at petrol stations and not being able to fill up their tank.

“That is not acceptable, this is an out-of-touch and complacent Government.”

Meanwhile, Edwin Atema from the Dutch FNV union, which represents drivers across the Europe, said the offer of temporary visas would not be enough to attract drivers back to the UK.

“On the short-term I think that will be a dead end,” he told the Today programme.

“So more is needed, and I think the EU workers we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help UK out of the shit they created themselves.”