Warning not to panic to buy gas or food as shortages continue
Motorists and shoppers have been urged not to panic buying fuel and merchandise as the shortage of truck drivers hit supplies.
Ministers faced new pressure to relax immigration rules as an emergency measure to attract overseas heavy truck drivers amid warnings that another 100,000 were needed in the industry.
BP said a “handful” of its gas stations were closed due to a lack of available fuel, while Esso owner ExxonMobil also said a “small number” of its stations were Tesco Alliance service had been affected.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested adding heavy truck drivers to the list of skilled workers for immigration purposes would not solve the problem, although he insisted nothing had been done. excluded.
Problems with the oil supply, in addition to problems with the food industry and rising gas prices, have led to warnings that the government will face a “winter of discontent.”
A combination of factors including Brexit leading to the loss of drivers from the European Union, the pandemic preventing driving tests and systemic issues in the industry related to wages and conditions have led to the shortage of truck drivers qualified.
Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association trade organization accused ministers of “government by inertia”, allowing the situation to “gradually worsen” in recent months.
“We have a shortage of 100,000 (drivers),” he told the BBC’s Newsnight. “When you think that everything we get in Britain comes in the back of a truck – be it fuel, food or clothing or whatever – at some point, if it there are no drivers to drive these trucks, the trucks are not moving and we are not getting our things.
Mr McKenzie added: “I don’t think we are talking about absolutely no fuel or food or anything like that, people shouldn’t be panicking to buy food or fuel or whatever. other, that is not what it is about.
“It’s about stockouts, shortages, a disruption of a normal supply chain.”
He said a “very short-term” measure would be to allow drivers on the shortage occupation list and “seasonal visas” for foreign drivers.
Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, said the supermarket chain is running out of around 100 drivers to meet its needs and echoed the call for a temporary change in immigration rules.
“I think the solution – even if it’s temporary – is very, very simple. Let us put heavy truck drivers on the list of skilled workers, ”he said.
The transport secretary, appearing alongside Mr Walker at question time, said “if that was really the solution, I’m sure we would get through it very quickly and I’m not ruling anything out”.
But “it is a global problem, it is a direct consequence of the coronavirus”.
The government decided to streamline the testing system and Mr. Shapps promised 50,000 more tests per year.
Labor shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: “What we’re looking at is a winter of discontent. We have staff shortages, supply shortages and skills shortages. “
BP told the government at a meeting last Thursday that the company’s ability to transport fuel from refineries to its network of service stations would falter.
The company’s UK retail manager, Hanna Hofer, said it was important for the government to understand “the urgency of the situation”, which she called “bad, very bad” , according to an ITV News report.
She added that BP had “two-thirds of the normal forecourt stock levels required for proper operation” and that the level “is declining rapidly.”
Meanwhile, an ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “A small number of our 200 Tesco Alliance retail locations are affected.
“We work closely with all parts of our distribution network to optimize supplies and minimize inconvenience to customers. “
A Tesco spokeswoman said: “We have good fuel availability, with deliveries arriving daily at our service stations across the UK.”
A government spokeswoman said: “There is no shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel normally.”
Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent forecourts across the UK, recommended motorists keep enough fuel in the tank to reach alternative service stations in the “rare event” fuel is not available on the first visit.
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Friday, Mr Balmer offered accelerated training for workers and brought in ex-servicemen to fill vacancies as other potential options to help ease pressure on the industry .
The truck industry has struggled to recruit in recent months and the problem has already hit supermarkets, with shelves half full and grocers forced to raise wages and introduce signing bonuses to fill in the gaps .
It spread to waste collection services, with some councils canceling garbage collections as drivers took more lucrative jobs elsewhere.
Mr Walker said Iceland was “fully stocked” but as a frozen food specialist he spared some of the problems facing other retailers.
“It’s happening to us from all angles right now,” he said. “We have the CO2 problem, we have heavy trucks, we have a shortage of workers in factories, fields and processing plants. It’s very difficult there.
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