The UK has deployed its reserve tanker fleet to alleviate the fuel crisis as more courts across the country reopen in a sign that the panic could ease.
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced that the pool of 80 government-owned tankers will be on the roads on Wednesday afternoon to increase the supply of fuel to filling stations across the country. “The trucks are driven by civilians and provide extra logistical capacity to the fuel industry,” he said.
The announcement comes as the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents the independent retailers that make up about two-thirds of the UK’s 8,000 filling stations, said about 27 per cent of members’ sites were without fuel on Wednesday. That compares with 37 percent on Tuesday and an estimated 50 to 90 percent on Sunday and Monday.
“There are encouraging signs that the crisis at the pumps is being alleviated,” said Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA.
Fuel retailers and suppliers – including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and carrier Hoyer Petrolog – said they met with Kwarteng on Wednesday and welcomed the deployment of the tanker fleet.
“We remain confident that the situation will further stabilize in the coming days and encourage everyone to fill in as they would normally help return courts to normal,” the group said in a joint statement.
The government is increasingly under pressure to get a grip on the crisis, which began last week with limited disruption to the supply of fuel to filling stations due to a shortage of drivers of heavy vehicles. This was followed by panic shopping that emptied over the weekend and chaotic scenes on forecourts while motorists rushed to refill their vehicles.
Balmer said the PRA received reports last week that staff at the gas station were “completely unacceptable” by customers. “Courts are trying their best to run ropes and make sure there is enough fuel to get around.”
The government tanker fleet is a pool that private businesses can rent, stored in depots in West Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire. Government insiders said the fleet had not been previously released due to ‘driver availability issues’ among carriers, as the industry will usually provide drivers for their vehicles.
Those aware of the situation said the industry had requested the reserve fleet after telling ministers they had more drivers than tankers, after the shift patterns were changed,
Ministers said they would issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign HGV managers to help address the labor shortages in the logistics industry that led to the fuel problems, but that the policy would take time to have an effect.
Meanwhile, the government is still preparing 150 army commanders to transport fuel through the country. One Whitehall official said training to drive petrol tankers began Tuesday and that staff would be “ready to be deployed this week”.
Twice a week newsletter
Energy is the world’s indispensable enterprise and Energy Source is its newsletter. Every Tuesday and Thursday, right after your inbox, Energy Source brings you important news, forward-looking analysis and insider intelligence. Sign in here.
However, Kwarteng also said that the situation seems to be improving, with signs that more filling stations are receiving more fuel. “The sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.”
Despite his reassurance, Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, said his members had seen “no significant change”. According to him, the association estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of the members on Wednesday were still unable to work because they could not get fuel.
“Most places still have no fuel, and if you find one you have, you stand in line for a long time,” he added.
McNamara called for an essential user list to be introduced, as happened in 2000, arguing that it would ‘get the steam out of the problem’.
“At the moment, it seems that this government has no other plan than to sit there and not ‘panic’,” he added.