UK firms cash in as army on call for fuel crisis

·5 min read
UK firms cash in as army on call for fuel crisis
'Sorry Out Of Use' signs seen at an empty Texaco gas station in central London. Many stations have run out of petrol due to a shortage of truck drivers, linked to Brexit and panic buying. Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has put the army on call to help tackle the spiralling petrol crisis, after a fourth day of panic buying and long queues as pumps run dry.

Up to 150 military tanker drivers will be on standby to deliver petrol and diesel to filling stations.

This comes amid rocketing fuel prices as petrol stations hiked their prices amid widespread panic buying. Petrol shot up to more than 150p a litre at hundreds of forecourts, with one site charging as much as 208.5p, according to the Daily Express.

“Motorists are being ripped off by companies who are already making millions from us,” former roads minister Sir Mike Penning said.

“Some firms are cashing in on a crisis," he said.

The price of a litre of unleaded petrol has risen by a penny since Friday to an eight-year high, according to Motoring group the RAC. 

RAC figures showed that the average price of a litre of petrol rose from 135.9p on Friday to 136.6p on Sunday, the highest level since September 2013.

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The AA warned that prices could rise further this autumn as the global oil price soars to its highest level in three years.

Brian Madderson of the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent filling stations in the UK, called on them to think twice about putting up their prices. 

“The one thing we do not condone is profiteering in situations like this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Most of our members, the independents, have a regular customer base and if they offend their customer base they don’t deserve to have them when this crisis is over. People have got long memories and I would urge anybody who thinks about trying to make a fast buck to think again because it just isn’t right," he said.

Fuel suppliers have said that panic buying is the main reason for the shortages, as supplies at refineries are not running low.

The surge in demand came amid fears a driver shortage would hit fuel supply. The UK is estimated to be short of more than 100,000 lorry drivers — an issue affecting several industries, including food suppliers and supermarkets, in recent months.

The government warned that drivers trying to fill up due to consumer panic were causing the long queues and forcing some petrol stations to close because they have run out of fuel.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: "The UK continues to have strong supplies of fuel. However, we are aware of supply chain issues at fuel station forecourts and are taking steps to ease these as a matter of priority.

"If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localised demand for fuel."

The government also authorised an extension to driver licences for fuel tankers, automatically renewing them without refresher training or exams.

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A joint statement from the fuel industry, including BP (BP.L), Shell (RDSB.L) and Esso (XOM), said the industry expects the situation to ease in the coming days because many cars are now holding more fuel than usual.

They said there was “plenty of fuel at UK refineries and terminals, and as an industry we are working closely with the government to help ensure fuel is available to be delivered to stations across the country."

There have been calls for key workers, such as doctors, nurses, prison staff, and care staff, to receive priority access to fuel where it is available.

The government has temporarily suspended competition law via the Downstream Oil Protocol to help oil companies to work together to deliver fuel to petrol stations that are running dry. The protocol would help fuel producers, suppliers, hauliers and retailers to prioritise the delivery of fuel to the parts of the country and strategic locations that are most in need.

The UK's business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng agreed to temporarily exempt the industry from the Competition Act 1998 after a meeting with oil companies and retailers on Sunday. This will allow oil companies to share information and optimise supply without risking breaching competition rules.

Temporary visas, lasting until 24 December, for 5,000 foreign fuel tanker and food haulage drivers and 5,500 poultry workers have also been announced.

The government is calling for nearly 1 million heavy goods vehicle drivers to rejoin the sector, and 3,000 new recruits are expected to undertake short, intensive driving courses.

Read more: Government to take over Southeastern rail after £25m tax breach

Factors affecting the driver shortage include Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, pay levels and an ageing workforce.

Many European drivers went back to their home countries, or decided to work elsewhere because of the additional border bureaucracy after Brexit and the impact it had on their income. Many also returned home due to the pandemic.

The pandemic also led to a huge backlog in HGV driver exams.

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