Tue. Oct 19th, 2021

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The army will be deployed to transport fuel from next week, the British government announced, while visa restrictions on overseas HGV managers and poultry workers will be relaxed in an effort to address the growing supply chain crisis in the country.

Nearly 200 military tankers, including 100 drivers, will begin delivering fuel to courts across the country as part of “Operation Escalin” from Monday.

The army will spend the next few days training at transport companies before the start of the operation, the Ministry of Defense said on Friday night.

As part of a package of measures aimed at easing the pressure on filling stations and other essential services, the government has also expanded its visa scheme for overseas workers.

Last week, the government has announced that 5,000 HGV managers and 5,500 poultry workers from abroad are eligible to work in the UK until Christmas.

However, the government has now said that 300 tank drivers from abroad can arrive in the UK and start work immediately. They will be allowed to work in the country until March next year.

Meanwhile, 4,700 food transport managers arriving in the UK from the end of October will be able to work in the country until 28 February 2022, and 5,500 poultry processors arriving in the UK from the end of October will be allowed to stay and work until 31 December. 2021

The government has been struggling all week to alleviate the crisis, caused by warnings from large oil companies that a shortage of tank drivers has disrupted fuel supplies at a small number of filling stations.

Although there was no national shortage of fuel, the warning caused panic purchases that drained up to 90 percent of the courts in some parts of the country.

Motorists queue at a petrol station
Panic buys up to 90 percent of fuel from garages in some parts of the country © Charlie Bibby / FT

Ministers on Friday praised the efforts of the sector and tried to reassure the public, arguing that the new measures would help keep the country going.

“The government has been active in tackling the short-term disruption of our supply chains, and in particular the flow of fuel to courts,” said Steve Barclay, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

“We are now seeing the impact of these interventions, as more fuel is being delivered to the courts than is being sold, and if people continue to return to their normal buying patterns, we will see smaller queues and prevent filling stations from closing.”

“It is important to emphasize that there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK, and that people still have to buy fuel normally,” added Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business. “The sooner we return to our normal buying habits, the sooner we can return to normal.”

Meanwhile, British independent fuel traders complained earlier on Friday that filling filling stations was taking too long.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents the independent garages that make up about two-thirds of the UK’s 8,000 filling stations, said about 26 per cent of members’ sites were still full of fuel on Friday.

That compares with 27 percent on Wednesday and Thursday, and an estimated 37 percent on Tuesday. “Although the situation is the same as in recent days, there are signs that it is improving, but too slowly,” said Gordon Balmer, executive director of the group.

Independent retailers are not recharging as fast as garages and supermarkets owned by an oil company, he said, adding that the UK would still have ‘long queues’ at forecourts, especially in London and the south-east.

Data from EdgePetrol, which supplies software to gas stations, has shown that fuel inventories at some retailers remain well below average.

At a random sample of 467 filling stations served by EdgePetrol, tank levels on Thursday were 24% of maximum capacity, compared to an average of 2021 of 39 percent. Last Saturday, after ‘large volumes’ were sold on Friday, September 24, average tank levels dropped to 17 percent, EdgePetrol said.

Navigation software company Waze said it made a 170 per cent increase in trips to filling stations between September 23, before the crisis and September 29, while users quickly refilled their cars, adding that user activity around filling stations ‘very high’ ‘stay.

Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw

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