Petrol: Fuel industry says 'there is plenty of fuel' and expects panic-buying to die down

In some areas of the country, forecourts cannot replenish petrol pumps quickly enough to service the growing cues, ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills reports

The fuel industry has assured motorists it expects the panic-buying of petrol and diesel to wind down, saying "there is plenty of fuel".

In a joint statement, fuel firms also called for drivers to stop panic buying and provided reassurance that demand will return to normal in the next few days.

The statement read: “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.

"We remain enormously grateful to all forecourt staff and HGV drivers for working tirelessly to maintain supplies during this time.”

The statement was signed by BP, Shell UK, Esso/ ExxonMobil, Wincanton, Certas, Energy UK, Hoyer Petrolog UK, Greenergy, Fuels Transport & Log., Downstream Fuel and Suckling.

No plans for soldiers to deliver fuel

Environment Secretary George Eustice also called on motorists to return to their normal pattern of purchasing as he denied there are plans for soldiers to drive Heavy Good Vehicles carrying fuel.

He said fuel shortages at petrol station forecourts have been caused by people panic-buying, not by a shortage of HGV drivers.

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“The most important thing is that people buy petrol as they normally would. There isn’t a shortage. There have been some shortages of HGV drivers getting petrol to forecourts but actually that is quite limited,” he told broadcasters.

Asked about reports of the army being drafted in to reduce the shortage of drivers, Mr Eustice said there are “no plans at the moment” to use the Army to drive petrol tankers.

ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports on the pressures forecourts across the country are experiencing, as motorists desperately try to stock up on petrol

It was earlier reported that Boris Johnson was considering the measure, but Mr Eustice said the MoD was only helping with the training of HGV drivers, in a bid to reduce the testing backlog, which some reports claim is as long as 40,000.

“We are bringing Ministry of Defence trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there’s definitely a role there for the MOD.

“In terms of other things we’ve no plans at the moment to bring in the Army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the Army on standby – but we’re not jumping to that necessarily at the moment.”

The environment secretary said "there does come a point – as we saw during a previous episode of panic-buying during the pandemic on food – where things settle down and people get used to it, and return to life as normal again".

“The sooner people do that the better. The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol they don’t need.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has previously refused to rule out requesting military assistance after queues for the pumps continued across the country on the weekend.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chairman Brian Madderson confirmed some training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel.

But he warned the army could not solve the problem alone and said there was no “single lever” the Government and the industry could pull to resolve the crisis.

Mr Shapps has already U-turned on introducing visas for overseas workers to solve the HGV driver shortage, relaxing rules to allow 5,000 more foreign drivers into the country until Christmas Eve.

Call to prioritise key workers for fuel

Meanwhile, nursing union Royal College of Nursing has called for key workers to be prioritised for fuel.

The union's England director Patricia Marquis said: "We already know some nursing staff are warning their employers they may not be able to attend tomorrow to ensure shifts can be safely staffed.

“In light of these supply problems, health and care workers need to be a priority or patient care will be compromised."

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, representing the care sector, is also calling for carers to get priority at petrol stations.

The association is suggesting designated protected slots at filling stations, warning that people could go without care and medication otherwise.

According to ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand, the government has the ability to activate extra powers for local councils to allow fuel plans to be put in place.

Fuel plans allow local councils to intervene, prioritise key workers and identify certain petrol stations as centres for distribution.

The powers can be exercised by Local Resilience Forums, made up of authorities including councils and emergency services.

These powers have never been used before and it is understood that although Local Resilience Forums are ready to go, the government shows no signs of activating these powers for local authorities.

The surge in demand led the PRA to warn as many as two-thirds of its membership of nearly 5,500 independent outlets were out of fuel on Sunday, with the rest of them “partly dry and running out soon”.Long queues formed at petrol stations as people flocked to fill up. Police were called to a scuffle at a north London forecourt as tensions ran high.

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Worry over depleted stocks led the Business Secretary to act following a meeting with oil companies and retailers on Sunday.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng opted to temporarily exempt the industry from the Competition Act to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

Invoking what is known as the Downstream Oil Protocol, Mr Kwarteng said: “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 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 the pressures on supply were being caused by “temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel”.

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PRA chairman Brian Madderson – who described the purchasing rate as “frenzied” – told the BBC the forecourt closures and depleted pumps were down to “panic buying, pure and simple”.

He said oil companies were giving refill priority to motorway service stations, with one such stop-off point reporting a 500% spike in demand compared to last week as road users flock to fill up their tanks.

As part of Government efforts to relieve wider supply chain pressures, 5,500 foreign worker visas will also be made available to the poultry sector as it strives to ensure a healthy array of turkeys are available for Christmas dinners.

But retailers warned the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply chain issues was “too little, too late” to keep shop shelves fully stocked this December.

British Retail Consortium director Andrew Opie said the truck driver shortage meant “we won’t be able to get all the products on to the shelves that we would have liked to.”

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

Mr Shapps said visas were “only one element” of the government’s relief plan, as he admitted efforts to rebuild the domestic freight workforce could take years.

The package of measures involves ambitions to train 4,000 more lorry drivers, while the Army have been drafted in to provide extra HGV driving tests to reduce the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

There is an estimated shortage of around 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK.

Nearly one million letters will also be landing on the doormats of people with HGV licences in the coming days enticing them to return to the job now that wages have risen.