Petrol stations are struggling, queues are stretching down the roads and fuel rations are even being introduced – are we at the beginning of a long petrol crisis?
What’s going on?
Petrol Retailers Association, which represents the 65% of all UK forecourts, claims between 50 and 90% of pumps are now dry among all its independent fuel retailers.
There has been a £30 maximum spend introduced at some petrol pumps to help distribute the dwindling fuel supplies among everyone who needs it.
But there have still been widespread complaints from emergency and social care workers that there has not been enough petrol for them to get to their jobs.
Reports of people panic-buying more than their fair share of petrol have been circulating as well.
Why is this happening now?
Oil giant BP warned the government last week that it would not be able to meet its delivery requirements to petrol stations because of a shortage of HGV drivers.
Without these drivers, petrol cannot be distributed across the country.
Motorists then panicked and began stockpiling petrol after hearing these reports, meaning supplies started to run out before the UK’s diminished HGV driving force could refill the pumps.
It also meant the problem BP had warned about was exacerbated and created the supposed petrol shortage seen in the last few days.
Is there actually a shortage?
No – there is plenty of fuel and petrol in the UK’s refineries at the moment.
As oil giant ExxonMobil said, its refinery – the largest one in the UK – is still operating and has a “strong supply” going to its distribution sites.
When will the crisis end?
The largest petrol operators, Motor Fuel Group, EG, Esso, BP, Shell, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, have released a joint statement on the supply issues.
The industry giants reminded the public the pressures were just “temporary spikes in customer demand” and that they expect petrol demand to return to normal levels “in the coming days”.
They said: “There is 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.
“As many cars are now holding more fuel than usual, we expect that demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, easing pressures on fuel station forecourts. We would encourage everyone to buy fuel as they usually would.”
Why is there a ‘fuel shortage’?
There is a global HGV driver shortage which has left suppliers trying to find a way to distribute all kinds of goods to stores.
Prior to the petrol panic, there were worries about empty supermarket shelves as chains could not get food delivered to their shops in time.
The government has only recently acknowledged there is a problem despite constant warnings from all kinds of industries over the last few months.
Did Brexit trigger the HGV driver shortage?
The UK’s exit from the EU has been widely blamed for the HGV driver shortage, as many workers returned to Europe after Brexit and so are not able to fill the long list of vacancies.
The Road Haulage Association estimated in August that 14,000 EU drivers left during the pandemic and that only 500 returned.
While Brexit certainly heightened this problem for the UK, there is actually a global shortage of HGV drivers for several other reasons.
During the Covid pandemic, HGV test sites were closed meaning new people could not enter the industry.
The ageing workforce, and long hours paired with low pay means it has become an unfavourable profession in the UK as well, and fewer young people want to get into the profession.
How long will the fuel shortage last?
Some petrol retailers expect levels to return to normal in “coming days”.
The £30 maximum limit at petrol pumps is expected to shorten the crisis as well.
Competition laws have been dropped too, meaning petrol companies can share information with rivals to understand who in the country needs petrol the most.
How long will the HGV driver shortage last?
The government has been accused of not reacting quickly enough to the HGV driver shortage amid predictions could stretch out for a long time.
Critics have been dismissive of the three-month visa scheme introduced for overseas drivers as European drivers might not want to come to Britain after Brexit.
Logistics firms have also noted that it will take some time to work through the Covid backlog of people who want to take a test.
HGV training also takes several months – meaning the problem may not be resolved any time soon, even if there is an influx of people who want to work as HGV drivers.