'We'll move heaven and earth': Army help and HGV immigration waivers considered over fuel issues

Chris Choi reports as minister urges people not to panic buy fuel

Queues have formed outside petrol stations around the UK amid concerns about fuel distribution caused by a lack of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers.

The government is urging people not to panic buy petrol, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisting there is no shortage of fuel at refineries in the UK - the issue is suppliers' capacity to distribute it.

He told ITV News the government will "move heaven and earth" to avert a fuel crisis in the UK, with "all manner of measures" being considered - as the UK battles a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers.

What is the government doing now to fix the problem?

The transport secretary says the "main problem is a coronavirus one" when it comes to HGV driver shortages, with potential drivers unable to take their tests during much of the pandemic.

As a solution, he said, he's doubled the number of HGV tests available in the UK, so people move through the testing system more quickly and get out on the roads.

Some petrol stations have pumps out of service. Credit: ITV News

With wages of HGV drivers having increased amid the shortage, Mr Shapps said high numbers of people are keen to get into the industry and many will already be closer to getting their licence due to the change on testing capacity.

Critics of the government have said this strategy will not provide a quick fix to the problem and have urged ministers to consider more tactics.

A Cabinet sub-committee met on Friday to find resolutions the situation, with Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay and Mr Shapps discussing issues with representatives from several government departments.

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen looks what is being done to solve the issue

Is Brexit to blame and will rules be changed to let more foreign HGV drivers in the country?

Mr Shapps insisted the shortage is not down to Brexit, but the Road Haulage Association has previously estimated about 20,000 European drivers have left the UK since Britain's divorce from the European Union.

One solution being touted by haulage groups is to waive immigration rules on HGV drivers so more from Europe can work in the UK.

Asked about the idea, Mr Shapps said he's looking at "every option, including shortage lists".

A shortage list names occupations where employers face a shortage of suitable labour, where it would be sensible to fill those shortages with migrant workers by waiving immigration rules.

Health workers and various other jobs are already on the UK's occupation shortage list, but Mr Shapps said he is cautious about adding HGV drivers to it as that could drive down wages.

Could the army be drafted in to help?

Mr Shapps told ITV News that the government was considering whether soldiers could be asked to drive HGV as a short-term fix to the shortage - just as they have been with Scottish ambulances facing the same issue.

The army was put on standby back in 2012 when petrol tanker drivers considered a national strike although a crisis was avoided as the strike never took place.

Shapps - 'We'll move heaven and earth' to fix this problem:

Asked by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen whether the government was again considering using the army, Mr Shapps said: "I'm looking at all these different possibilities - we'll throw the kitchen sink at it.

"We want to make sure we're using every possible arm of the state, if that's what's required."

What's happening at petrol stations?

ITV News has filmed queues at petrol stations around the UK.

The government has insisted there is no fuel shortage - "the refineries have plenty of fuel", Mr Shapps told ITV News - but it appears people are panic buying regardless.

Queues have been forming at petrol station forecourts with drivers keen to avoid a situation where they are unable to fill up. Credit: PA

BP said on Thursday it had closed a "handful" of its petrol forecourts due to a lack of available fuel.

And Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs Tesco refilling stations, said a "small number" of its forecourts had also been impacted.

Mr Shapps said: “As of last night, five petrol stations on the BP network out of 12 or 13 hundred were affected.

“I’m meeting this morning with Tesco and I’m sure they’ll give me the update for themselves. “None of the other retailers said they had any closures.”

Is there a fuel crisis?

At a meeting a week ago BP told the government that the company was struggling to get fuel to its forecourts.

ITV News reported it's head of UK retail Hanna Hofer described the situation as "bad, very bad".

BP had "two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations", she said, adding that the level is "declining rapidly".

The AA has said most of the UK's forecourts are working as they should amid worries over supply of petrol at some sites.

'The refineries have plenty of fuel': Shapps urges people not to panic buy

"There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems," said AA president Edmund King.

"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.

"Drivers should not fill up outside their normal routines because, even if the occasional petrol station is temporarily closed, others just down the road will be open.

"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."