© Reuters. A BP fuel station is seen running out of fuel in London, Britain, September 26, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Childs
Written by Jay Faulconbridge and Alistair Smoot
LONDON (Reuters) – Up to 90 percent of British gas stations in major English cities ran out on Monday after panic buying exacerbated a supply chain crisis caused by a truck driver shortage that retailers warned could hit the world’s fifth-largest economy. .
A severe shortage of truck drivers after Brexit has left Britain’s supply chains with chaos on everything from food to fuel, raising the specter of unrest and price hikes in the lead-up to Christmas.
Just days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government spent millions of pounds to avoid food shortages due to soaring fertilizer prices, the largest cost of fertilizer production, ministers have asked people to refrain from panic buying.
But queues of dozens of cars returned from petrol stations across the country on Sunday, swallowing supplies and simply forcing many gas stations to close. Reuters journalists said pumps in British cities were either shut down or had signs indicating no fuel availability on Monday.
The Gasoline Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent fuel retailers who now account for 65% of all front-end outlets in the UK, said members reported that 50% to 90% of pumps were running dry in some areas.
“We’re unfortunately seeing panic buying of fuel in many parts of the country,” Gordon Palmer, executive director of public relations who has worked at BP (NYSE): for 30 years, told Reuters.
“We need some calm,” Palmer said. “Please don’t panic, buy: if people drain the network, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Britain is considering calling on the military to ensure fuel supplies reach consumers, according to The Times and Financial Times.
Environment Minister George Eustice said there was no shortage of fuel and urged people to refrain from panic buying.
Transport companies, gas stations and retailers have warned that there are no quick fixes, but the shortage of truck drivers – estimated at 100,000 – has been so acute, and because transporting fuel requires additional training and licensing.
Supply chain collapse
Britain’s retail industry warned the government on Friday that unless it moved to ease a severe shortage of truck drivers in the next 10 days, major disruption was inevitable in the run-up to Christmas.
For months, supermarkets, processors and farmers have warned that a shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers is straining supply chains to breaking point — making it difficult to move goods to shelves.
Giles Hurley, chief executive of Aldi UK, said that while his supermarket chain was in good shape, no one could guarantee that there would not be a swell in the market around Christmas.
BP said on Sunday that nearly a third of Britain’s two petrol stations ran out of two major grades of fuel as panic buying forced the government to suspend competition laws and allow companies to work together to ease shortages.
Business Minister Kwasi Kwarting said the suspension would allow companies to share information and coordinate their response.
“This move will allow the government to work constructively with fuel producers, suppliers, carriers and retailers to ensure disruption is as reduced as possible,” the business department said in a statement.
On Sunday, the government announced a plan to issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign truck drivers. About 25,000 truck drivers returned to Europe before Brexit and Britain was unable to test 40,000 drivers during the COVID-19 lockdowns.