Competition law suspended in urgent bid to solve petrol station chaos

Ministers say there is enough fuel to go around and that drivers need to ease off panic buying, reports ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana

The government has agreed to temporarily suspend competition law in a bid to get a grip on the fuel shortages being driven by panic-buying motorists.

Ministers hope the move will encourage fuel suppliers to share information so they can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

The decision comes after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with oil companies and retailers on Sunday to address another day of continued queuing for the pumps, with petrol stations across the country running dry.

Mr Kwarteng said: “We have long-standing contingency plans in place to work with industry so that fuel supplies can be maintained and deliveries can still be made in the event of a serious disruption.

“While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

“This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.”

In a separate joint statement from the likes of Shell, ExxonMobile and Greenergy, the industry reiterated that the pressures on supply were being caused by “temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel”.

Some garages are experiencing a shortage of supply caused by issues with transporting fuel from distribution terminals to forecourts and the situation has worsened due to panic buying.

What can the government do to improve the crisis? - Anushka Asthana

The issue stems from a lack of HGV drivers - something the government is hoping to tackle by relaxing visa rules to allow 5,000 more foreign drivers into the country until Christmas Eve.

Speaking to ITV News, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said if people stopped "topping up their car and just filling up when they need to, we'll see this dissipate again and that's the way out of this".

He said the six refineries and 47 fuel storage units in the UK were all full, adding "there's no shortage at all" but that the "issue is about getting the fuel out to petrol stations".

The transport secretary said part of the issue is that "there's something innate in us that if we see a queue we think we need to join it and what I'd say to people is unless you need the petrol, unless your car is nearer to empty, don't join the queue unless you need to.

"The fuel's going to carry on flowing, we're in no different position this week to what we were last week.

"People have talked a lot rightly about an HGV crisis, there's been a shortage of HGV drivers for many years.

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

"It's been massively exacerbated by coronavirus, that is true, but the big package of measures we're bringing in today.... will help to right the situation, we just need the public to also not be concerned because there is more petrol coming.

"It's not that we don't have petrol in this country. The refineries, the storage units are full."

He added he believed the panic buying issue would be short-lived since it's "not like the pasta or toilet paper crisis at the beginning of the pandemic" as there's only so much fuel you can fit in a tank.

Former HGV driver Duncan Garwell tells ITV News the issues are too "deep-rooted" to solve by Christmas

What action is the government taking?

As well as the temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers, 5,500 poultry workers will be able to take up employment in the UK until Christmas Eve, in a bid to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and toys and counter delivery difficulties at petrol stations.

Other measures announced by the government in a bid to ease the shortage of HGV drivers include:

  • Plans to train 4,000 more lorry drivers through both a £10 million investment in skills camps and established adult education budgets, with some of those studying for HGV licences eligible to have their courses paid for by the state.

  • The Ministry of Defence is stepping in to provide examiners for lorry driving tests so that more can be carried out.

  • One million people with HGV licences who have left the industry will be contacted, asking them to return.

Also on Sunday, Mr Shapps accused a haulage group of sparking the petrol station queues.

The Welwyn Hatfield MP said the queues and closures at fuel stations were a “manufactured situation” created by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) leaking comments from BP bosses about supply concerns.

Asked who manufactured the situation, Mr Shapps told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “There was a meeting which took place about 10 days ago, a private meeting in which one of the haulage associations decided to leak the details to media, and that has created, as we have seen, quite a large degree of concern as people naturally react to those things.”

On Thursday, ITV News reported that BP had told the government that it plans to restrict deliveries of petrol and diesel to its network of service stations to ensure continuity of supply.At a meeting, organised by the Cabinet Office a week earlier, BP’s Head of UK Retail, Hanna Hofer, said it was important that government understood the “urgency of the situation” which she described as “bad, very bad”.

Mr Shapps later told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show the briefings were “irresponsible”.

Although the Cabinet minister did not name the RHA in his broadcast round on Sunday, the Mail on Sunday (MoS) quoted a government source stating the Road Haulage Association was “entirely responsible for this panic and chaos”.

But Rod McKenzie, of the RHA, said the "allegation" against him was "nonsense".

“I was not in the meeting. I was not briefed about the meeting afterwards. I certainly didn’t brief any journalists about the meeting about which I knew nothing," he said.

“It is entirely without foundation.”

Mr Shapps also admitted he had done something he “didn’t necessarily want to do” in allowing foreign workers to fill the workforce gaps, having only on Friday rallied against the idea of temporary visas, but said the Government wanted to reassure the public amid long queues at the pumps.