Is There Really A Fuel Shortage? No, Here's What's Going On

Some petrol stations have temporarily closed due to a fuel shortage – but that is not the full picture.

The possibility of a petrol shortage has followed growing concerns about running out of natural gas, energy and CO2.

Here’s a breakdown explaining why the UK’s petrol supplies are not the problem.

Why are people panicking?

Widespread concerns have been rising ever since some BP petrol stations and other Esso-owned Tesco Alliance stations announced they would be closing last week.

Up to 90% of fuel pumps in UK cities were without petrol by Monday.

Petrol Retailers Association also claimed around two-thirds of its 5,500 independent outlets are out of fuel – and the UK only has more than 8,000 stations in total.

Queues have been stretching down the roads outside petrol stations and fights have even broken out between desperate motorists.

This has led to widespread concerns that there will not be enough fuel to go around – triggering panic buying – and worries that the UK will be without essential resources throughout winter.

'Sorry out of use' signs at a petrol station in Bury St Edmunds
'Sorry out of use' signs at a petrol station in Bury St Edmunds
SOPA Images via Getty Images

But is there actually a shortage?

No, the UK has access to plenty of fuel.

Big names in the industry, including Shell, ExxonMobil and Greenergy, released a joint statement promising the shortages were due to “temporary spikes in customer demand – not a national shortage of fuel”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman also said: “We have ample fuel stocks in this country - the public should continue to be reassured there are no shortages.”

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng also said the government has “long-standing” contingency plans.

As transport secretary Grant Shapps pointed out, refineries have “plenty of petrol” but an insufficient number of delivery drivers means the fuel is not being distributed around the country.

Last week, AA president Edmund King explained: “There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems.

“Fridays and the weekend always tend to be busier on forecourts, as drivers either combine filling up with shopping runs, prepare for weekend trips or refuel for the start of the new working week.”

A sign outside a BP petrol station in Hildenborough
A sign outside a BP petrol station in Hildenborough
BEN STANSALL via Getty Images

He recommended drivers continue filling up their tanks but not panic-buying, adding: “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.”

But HGV driver shortages have been causing problems for months.

Food chains such as McDonald’s, Nando’s and Wetherspoons struggled to stock some items while a handful of councils have had to cancel bin collections.

As BP’s head of retail Hannah Hofer told the government: “We are expecting the next few weeks to be really, really difficult.”

Where have all the drivers gone?

There is no single cause of the HGV driver shortage as a series of factors are at play.

Brexit means fewer Europeans are now employed in the UK while Covid meant HGV driving tests were put on pause throughout lockdown.

Some hauliers with the Road Haulage Association claimed it was more expensive for drivers in Europe to be employed in Britain after Brexit, while others complained that the lifestyle which accompanies the job drives away potential employees.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen has even claimed that there are enough people who are qualified to drive trucks but only “300,000 people chose to work in the industry”.

The poor pay and unsociable working hours have been blamed for driving workers away too.

Does the government have a solution?

Downing Street will be suspending competition law to allow oil firms to target fuel deliveries at petrol stations – companies can share information and prioritise the areas which need the most fuel.

There have been reports that the government will employ the military to drive fuel tankers to tackle the emergency.

As Shapps told BBC Breakfast on Friday: “If it can actually help, we will bring them in.”

Yet, he pointed out there may be “technicalities” over whether Army drivers would be licensed to drive civilian HGVs, which means Army personnel may not be able to quickly relieve the shortage.

Other ministers have said there are no plans to bring in the Army at the moment.

The Road Haulage Association wants the government to relax visa restrictions for overseas workers to ease the strains on the distribution chains.

Despite claiming it wanted to prioritise UK workers on Friday, Downing Street has now introduced a three-month visa scheme to encourage overseas drivers to come to Britain until Christmas Eve.

These temporary visas have been offered to 5,000 foreign fuel tanker and food lorry drivers and 5,500 poultry workers.

There is a significant shortage of truck drivers
There is a significant shortage of truck drivers
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

The government has also increased the number of HGV driving tests per year to accelerate drivers into the industry, as there is a backlog of 40,000 people waiting to take their test.

Nearly one million government letters have been sent to former HGV drivers encouraging them back to the industry.

Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker also wants the government to put HGV drivers on the skilled worker list, meaning foreign workers can apply for the skilled worker visas to plug the gaps, although Shapps indicated this is unlikely to happen.

What does the petrol industry advise?

The Petrol Retailers Association suggests drivers should keep enough fuel in the tank to visit another petrol station just in case the first one does not have a sufficient supply – around a quarter of a tank.

It’s also urging the public not to panic buy.

BP has also cut deliveries to approximately 90 percent of its stations to distribute supplies evenly.

When will the driver shortage end?

According to Logistics UK, the shortage is unlikely to end until spring next year.

The British Retail Consortium also said the number of visas the government is currently offering is “too small” to make a substantial impact ahead of the Christmas rush.


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