Panic buying call
‘No plans’ for Army to drive petrol tankers says minister
Some petrol stations are struggling for supplies (pic: Terry Murden)
Ministers are not making any immediate plans to call on the army to drive petrol tankers to ensure forecourts receive supplies of fuel, said the Environment Secretary George Eustice.
Boris Johnson was said to be considering sending in troops but Mr Eustice said today the Government has “no plans at the moment”.
He said there was not a shortage of fuel and called on motorists to stop “panic buying” petrol and return to their normal pattern of purchasing.
“We are bringing Ministry of Defence (MoD) trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there’s definitely a role there for the MoD,” he said.
“In terms of other things we’ve no plans at the moment to bring in the Army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the Army on standby – but we’re not jumping to that necessarily at the moment.”
The latest developments come as the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents the majority of petrol stations in Britain, estimated that up to 90% were running short, though supplies in Scotland were said to be plentiful.
Critics say the visa plan is not enough
Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK Business Secretary, has suspended competition laws to allow fuel suppliers to co-operate.
At the the weekend, the Prime Minister ordered the Department for Transport to issue 5,000 visas to foreign HGV drivers to guarantee food and fuel reaches British high streets and factories. The scheme is also being extended to 5,500 poultry workers.
But business groups say the move would not have been necessary if the government had properly prepared for the impact of Brexit on the availability of labour.
British Chambers of Commerce president, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE said a plan to manage the switch from EU to UK sourced labour should have been in place from the outset.
“Instead, the supply of EU labour was turned off with no clear roadmap as to how this transition would be managed without disruption to services and supply chains.
“Now some action has been taken, but additional testing will take time and the low number of visas offered is insufficient.”
Ms McGregor-Smith added: “This announcement is the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.
“Government should be prepared to significantly expand the number of visas issued within this scheme and convene a summit that brings business and government together to find both immediate and longer-term solutions to the many challenges facing firms throughout the UK.
“Without further action, we now face the very real prospect of serious damage to our economic recovery, stifled growth as well as another less than happy Christmas for many businesses and their customers across the country.”
BCC data has shown that 76% of hospitality businesses, and 82% of construction firms have faced recruitment difficulties in recent months. Three out of four exporters are reporting no growth in sales in Q2.
Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “While we welcome the visa scheme to allow HGV drivers from abroad to help temporarily fill domestic shortages in food and fuel logistics, the limit of 5,000 visas will do little to alleviate the current shortfall.
“Supermarkets alone have estimated they need at least 15,000 HGV drivers for their businesses to be able to operate at full capacity ahead of Christmas and avoid disruption or availability issues.
“To avoid disappointment for millions of households during the festive season we urge the Government to extend this programme.”
The Road Haulage Association estimates that the UK is in need of about 100,000 HGV drivers, with existing shortages made worse by a number of factors, including the pandemic, Brexit, an ageing workforce, and low wages and poor working conditions.
The CBI wants the existing Cabinet Office task force turned into a ‘COBR-level’ group tasked with finding quick solutions to key problems holding back the economy.