Fuel shortage: Supplies at petrol stations are 'stabilising', Boris Johnson says

Boris Johnson has said it is not essential for forecourts to prioritise essential workers-despite some saying the petrol panic buying has made travelling to work impossible, ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the fuel stock issue at petrol stations is “stabilising” and drivers should go about their business as normal.

The prime minister said he understood the frustration felt by drivers as they struggled to fill up their cars after panic buyers flocked to petrol stations.

But he said the situation was beginning to improve with supplies returning to normal levels.

He said: “On the forecourts, the situation is stabilising and people should be confident and just go about their business in the normal way."

Mr Johnson said the government was putting in place measures to ensure the supply chain could cope in the run-up to Christmas.

'Supplies are coming back on to the forecourts in the normal way,' says Boris Johnson

He said: “I want to say first of all how much I sympathise with people who have been worried about their journeys, worried about whether they will be able to use their cars in the normal way.

“I know how frustrating and worrying it must have been to worry about a shortage of petrol and fuel.

“We are now starting to see the situation improve. We are hearing from industry that supplies are coming back on to the forecourts in the normal way.

“What we want to do is to make sure we have the preparations necessary to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in the supply of our petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps also said pressure on petrol stations is beginning to ease, but army tanker drivers remain on standby to deliver fuel if necessary.

Mr Shapps told broadcasters "there are now the first very tentative signs of stabilisation in forecourt storage which won’t be reflected in the queues as yet".

He urged people to stop panic-buying fuel, saying "the sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.”

And he condemned reports of people filling plastic bottles with fuel at petrol stations.

“It is dangerous and extremely unhelpful,” he said.

'Please don't fill up if you don't need to' - Grant Shapps answers questions on the fuel crisis:

It was earlier announced army tanker drivers would be put on a state of readiness in preparation for deployment to ease the chaos on fuel supply chains.

Military drivers will now get specialised training in preparation for their possible deployment, ministers announced on Monday.

An extension to ADR driver licences permitting drivers to maximise their available capacity instead of being taken out of circulation for refresher training purposes was also announced.

How empty are petrol station forecourts?

The latest survey of members of Petrol Retail Association shows that as of Tuesday morning 40% of forecourts were "dry" - 40% have one grade of fuel and 20% are fully stocked.

It shows the number of stations running empty has decreased, on Sunday members were reporting that between 50% and 90% of garages had run out of stock.

That's in line with what the government has said about the crisis easing.Tuesday's survey found all motorway services are now fully stocked.

The PRA survey takes in 1,500 forecourts around the country, excluding Northern Ireland.

The measure will apply to licences expiring between Monday and December 31, and extend their validity until January 31, 2022.

Many filling stations have run dry after drivers made a dash for the pumps amid fears a shortage of tanker drivers would hit supplies.

Impatience and desperation are growing as the crisis continues.

Video from a petrol station forecourt appears to show a man carrying a knife

Video has emerged from one petrol station forecourt in East London, appearing to show a man carrying a knife as he confronts another driver. 

The man is then carried several metres on the car bonnet of the driver involved.

The shortages have an impact across the country, with reports on Monday suggesting Surrey County Council is considering declaring a major incident.

On Tuesday, however, Tim Oliver, Leader of Surrey County Council, said: “Surrey has not declared a major incident but like the rest of the country is facing significant disruption to fuel supplies."

'It's getting worse' - Queueing drivers react to the ongoing fuel crisis:

Army tanker drivers are on standby to deliver fuel to where it is needed most, and provide reassurance that supplies remain strong, the government said.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The men and women of our armed forces stand ready to alleviate the transport pressures where they are felt most.

“That is why I have authorised their increased preparedness so they are ready to respond if needed.”

The fuel industry sought to assure motorists on Monday, saying it expects the panic-buying of petrol and diesel to wind down, adding "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 was signed by BP, Shell UK, Esso/ ExxonMobil, Wincanton, Certas, Energy UK, Hoyer Petrolog UK, Greenergy, Fuels Transport & Log., Downstream Fuel and Suckling.

The latest announcement from the government comes just hours after Environment Secretary George Eustice 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.

“The most important thing is that people buy petrol as they normally would," Mr Eustice said.

"There isn’t a shortage. There have been some shortages of HGV drivers getting petrol to forecourts but actually that is quite limited."

One driver spoke about going to six petrol stations in different locations and finding no fuel, ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills reports

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

Drafting in the army is the second government U-turn over the driver shortage, with Mr Shapps introducing visas for overseas workers by relaxing rules to allow 5,000 more foreign drivers into the country until Christmas Eve.

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.

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.

Another measure taken by the government was temporarily exempting the fuel industry from the Competition Act to allow it to share information so it can target areas where supply is running low.

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

Invoking what is known as the Downstream Oil Protocol, Business Secretary Kwasi 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.”

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.”