Here’s a breakdown explaining why the UK’s petrol supplies are not the problem.
Why are people panicking?
Some BP petrol stations and other Esso-owned Tesco Alliance stations announced they would be closing on Thursday.
It’s thought only one percent of the 8,380 petrol stations in the UK have closed at the moment and between 50 to 100 BP forecourts have been affected.
This has led to widespread concerns that there will not be enough fuel to go around – leading to panic buying – and worries that the UK will be without essential resources throughout winter.
But is there actually a shortage?
No, the UK has access to plenty of fuel.
As transport secretary Grant Shapps pointed out, refineries have “plenty of petrol” but an insufficient number of delivery drivers means the fuel is not being distributed around the country.
AA president Edmund King said: “There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems.
“Fridays and the weekend always tend to be busier on forecourts, as drivers either combine filling up with shopping runs, prepare for weekend trips or refuel for the start of the new working week.”
He recommended drivers continue filling up their tanks, adding: “It is now clear that there have been occasional delays over recent weeks that have been managed with hardly anyone noticing. This was a manageable problem.”
But HGV driver shortages have been causing problems for months.
Food chains such as McDonald’s, Nando’s and Wetherspoons struggled to stock some items while a handful of councils have had to cancel bin collections.
As BP’s head of retail Hannah Hofer told the government: “We are expecting the next few weeks to be really, really difficult.”
Where have all the drivers gone?
There is no single cause of the HGV driver shortage as a series of factors are at play.
Brexit means fewer Europeans are now employed in the UK while Covid meant HGV driving tests were put on pause throughout lockdown.
Some hauliers with the Road Haulage Association claimed it was more expensive for drivers in Europe to be employed in Britain after Brexit, while others complained that the lifestyle which accompanies the job drives away potential employees.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen has even claimed that there are enough people who are qualified to drive trucks but only “300,000 people chose to work in the industry”.
The poor pay and unsociable working hours have been blamed for driving workers away as well.
Does the government have a solution?
There have been reports that the government will employ the military to drive fuel tankers to tackle the emergency.
As Shapps told BBC Breakfast on Friday: “If it can actually help, we will bring them in.”
Yet, he pointed out there may be “technicalities” over whether Army drivers would be licensed to drive civilian HGVs, which means Army personnel may not be able to quickly relieve the shortage.
The Road Haulage Association wants the government to relax visa restrictions for overseas workers to ease the strains on the distribution chains.
However, Downing Street has said it wants to prioritise employment for people in the UK, and Shapps said he does not want UK workers to be “undercut” by cheaper EU labour.
Instead, he said, increasing the salary which accompanies the role would attract more drivers.
The government has also increased the number of HGV driving tests per year to accelerate drivers into the industry, as there is a backlog of 40,000 people waiting to take their test.
Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker also wants the government to put HGV drivers on the skilled worker list, meaning foreign workers can apply for the skilled worker visas to plug the gaps, although Shapps indicated this is unlikely to happen.
What does the petrol industry advise?
The Petrol Retailers Association suggests drivers should keep enough fuel in the tank to visit another petrol station just in case the first one does not have a sufficient supply – around a quarter of a tank.
It’s also urging the public not to panic buy.
BP has also cut deliveries to approximately 90 percent of its stations to distribute supplies evenly.
When will the driver shortage end?
According to Logistics UK, the shortage is unlikely to end until spring next year.