Is there a fuel shortage and why is there a HGV driver shortage? Here's why some UK petrol stations are shut today

As petrol stations across the UK close due to fuel supply issues after panic buying and lorry driver shortages, here’s what you need to know

By Liv McMahon
Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 7:46 am
Why is there a shortage of HGV drivers? Is there a fuel shortage and why are some UK petrol stations are shut today? (Image credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
Why is there a shortage of HGV drivers? Is there a fuel shortage and why are some UK petrol stations are shut today? (Image credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

The UK Government is continuing to stress that there is “no fuel shortage” as panic buying at UK petrol stations continues.

Troops will begin training to help deliver petrol supplies as Boris Johnson said he was making preparations to deal with potential problems until "Christmas and beyond".

The Prime Minister said the situation on the filling station forecourts is "stabilising" as he urged motorists to go about their business in the normal way.

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A Shell petrol station in Liverpool which was closed due to no fuel on Thursday September 23, 2021. (Image credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Oil and petrol giant BP said a "handful" of its petrol stations were forced to close on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 September due to some supply issues with fuel, while Esso owner ExxonMobil had also said a "small number" of its Tesco Alliance forecourts have been impacted by a lack of petrol available.

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The issues around petrol supply, on top of problems in the food industry and rising gas prices have led to warnings the UK Government faces a "winter of discontent".

But is there a fuel shortage in the UK – and why are some petrol stations still closed today?

Here’s why petrol supply issues are fuelling fears of a fuel shortage, and how it relates to the UK’s lorry driver shortage.

Why are some petrol stations closed in the UK?

A number of BP and Tesco Alliance petrol forecourts were forced to close on Thursday 23 September as issues plaguing the fuel sector came to a head.

The amount of heavy-goods vehicle (HGV) drivers on British roads has fallen sharply in the wake of Brexit, with the UK Government’s Australian-style immigration system adding to existing recruitment struggles in the sector.

HGV drivers fell short of the Government’s list of skilled workers who, under its post-Brexit immigration policy, can migrate to the UK more easily to work.

Chief executive of UK retail giant Next, Lord Wolfson, described the Home Office’s policy as “insane”.

Appearing on LBC in late August, Tory peer and Brexiteer Lord Wolfson said: “It strikes me as being insane that despite the fact that everyone knows that we desperately need drivers, the Home Office are still preventing people coming to this country to work as drivers.”

Is there a fuel shortage?

BP told the Government in a meeting last Thursday that the company's ability to transport fuel from refineries to its network of forecourts was faltering.

The firm's head of UK retail Hanna Hofer said it was important the Government understood the "urgency of the situation", which she described as "bad, very bad", according to a report by ITV News.

She added that BP had "two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations" and the level is "declining rapidly".

Meanwhile, an ExxonMobil spokesman said: "A small number of our 200 Tesco Alliance retail sites are impacted.

"We are working closely with all parties in our distribution network to optimise supplies and minimise any inconvenience to customers."

A Tesco spokeswoman said: "We have good availability of fuel, with deliveries arriving at our petrol filling stations across the UK every day."

A Government spokeswoman said: "There is no shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal."

On Friday 24 September the EG Group, who own a number of UK petrol forecourts under brands like BP, Shell, Asda and more, announced a £30 cap on fuel purchases at the petrol pump.

An EG Group spokesperson said: “Due to the current unprecedented customer demand for fuel and associated supply challenges we have taken the decision to introduce a limit of £30 per customer on all of our grades of fuel.

"This excludes HGV drivers and emergency services due to their vital role at this time.

“This is a company decision to ensure all our customers have a fair chance to refuel and to enable our sites to carry on running smoothly.

They added: "We kindly ask everyone visiting our sites to treat our colleagues, supply chain partners and customers with respect during these very challenging times.

"All of EG Group’s UK sites remain open and operational to serve customers.”

Motorists and shoppers have been urged not to panic buy fuel and goods as the shortage of lorry drivers hit supplies – but queues of motorists at petrol pumps over the weekend have seen filling stations across the UK become overwhelmed and forced to close.

On Tuesday morning, Brian Madison, chairman of the Petrol Retailers' Association, told BBC Good Morning Scotland that despite hopes of panic buying at the petrol pump easing, demand is continuing to overwhelm petrol stations in areas with high vehicle density.

"I was hoping to be able to report that there had been a calming of panic buying but I'm afraid it seems that that is still ongoing today," Mr Madison said.

"So we’re not quite yet at the equilibrium everyone's hoping for where enough people have got enough fuel filled up in their car that they don't need to visit their local service stations.”

Why is there a shortage of HGV drivers?

Ministers faced fresh pressure to ease immigration rules as an emergency measure to attract HGV drivers from overseas amid warnings that 100,000 more were needed across the industry.

A combination of factors including Brexit leading to the loss of European Union drivers, the pandemic preventing driving tests and systemic problems in the industry relating to pay and conditions have led to the shortage of qualified HGV drivers.

The HGV sector has been struggling with recruitment in recent months and the issue has already hit supermarkets, with shelves half full and grocers forced to increase salaries and introduce signing on bonuses to fill gaps.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested adding HGV drivers to the skilled worker list for immigration purposes would not solve the problem, although he insisted he nothing had been ruled out.

Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association trade body accused ministers of "government by inertia", allowing the situation to get "gradually worse" in recent months.

"We have got a shortage of 100,000 (drivers)," he told BBC's Newsnight. "When you think that everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a lorry - whether it's fuel or food or clothes or whatever it is - at some point, if there are no drivers to drive those trucks, the trucks aren't moving and we're not getting our stuff."

Mr McKenzie added: "I don't think we are talking about absolutely no fuel or food or anything like that, people shouldn't panic buy food or fuel or anything else, that's not what this is about.

"This is about stock outs, it's about shortages, it's about a normal supply chain being disrupted."

He said a "very short-term" measure would be to allow drivers onto the shortage occupation list and "seasonal visas" for foreign drivers.

The UK Government has since announced temporary measures to combat supply chain issues, with temporary visas provided for HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers in the run up to this winter.

The plans have come under fire from Scottish trade bodies who say they fall short of what is needed to resolve the current problems.

Additional reporting by PA Political Editor David Hughes

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