The Army is set to be enlisted by the government in order to help tackle the fuel crisis.
Boris Johnson is due to meet with senior officials and ministers today, September 27, to discuss the latest update around the fuel crisis, which has been caused by a shortage of tanker drivers and members of the public panic buying petrol.
Now, the UK government is said to be considering using the Army to drive tankers of fuel around the country, in a plan known as Operation Escalin.
According to a survey of the Petrol Retailers Association, ‘50% to 85% of all independent service stations had now run dry’, the Financial Times reports. The data was detailed by the chair of the Petrol Retailers Association, Brian Madderson, however, it excluded motorway forecourts and some supermarket sites, which had been prioritised by oil companies.
On Monday, in Northern Ireland, supplies of fuel were still ‘steady’, according to Madderson. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Madderson said the issue seemed to be restricted only to the mainland, with urban areas being the worst hit.
Madderson noted that preparation for the Army to drive fuel tankers had been taking place ‘in the background’. However, he stated that there were concerns over whether the military would have the required skillset that is needed for such a job, for example, in knowing how to load the tankers.
On Sunday evening, the government announced an exemption from the 1998 competition act for all companies within the energy industry. It means that producers, suppliers, hauliers and retailers are subsequently allowed to share information with one another so they can deliver to areas that have been heavily impacted by the crisis.
It was hoped that if plans went well, the disruption could ease within five days, and panic buying has been thought to have placated since Sunday.
Updates on the situation are provided to officials up to four times a day. An insider told the FT: ‘There is a crisis in data; we are trying to get a better picture on when the panic will pass.’
Media reports on the shortages sparked panic buying from motorists, which caused a ‘manageable issue’ to deteriorate, according to Madderson. Demand for fuel reached ‘500% above the normal level’ on Saturday, September 25. However, while panic buying has exacerbated the short-term issue, Madderson attributes the main issue stemming from the government ‘dragging its feet over the issue of the number of haulage drivers on the ground’.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, urged the public on Sunday to ‘be sensible’.
Most of the 8,000 petrol stations in the UK are run by independent companies and according to Shapps there was still a lot of fuel in the six refineries and 47 storage facilities in Britain.
However, until panic buying stops, there is little fuel companies can do to get things back to normal.
We continue to work hard with our haulier supplier, Hoyer, to optimise fuel distribution and to minimise the level of disruption.
There is also a backlog of lorry driver applicants at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). The drivers are awaiting training, and could provide crucial help in easing the fuel crisis, according to Madderson.
Madderson praised the government’s plan to make visa requirements less restrictive for foreign workers, so that more lorry driver applicants could begin training. He noted that getting the DVLA sorted was a ‘number-one priority’ in helping ease the fuel crisis.
It has also been requested by the chair of the licensed Private Hire Car Association, Steve Wright, that licensed vehicles receive emergency-service vehicle status, so they can be first in line to receive fuel. He noted that private-hire vehicles are often used to transport disabled students and patients to hospital and so without fuel, the impact would be ‘catastrophic’.
The government is now under intense pressure to ease the fuel crisis, particularly due to a surge in gas and electricity prices, threatening a crisis around the cost of living as the winter season approaches.
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