Tue | Oct 19, 2021

UK could call in army to help ease gas pumps chaos

Published:Tuesday | September 28, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Closed pumps are seen on the forecourt of a petrol station in Manchester, England, on Monday, September 27. The petrol station was one of many across the UK which ran out of fuel after an outbreak of panic buying. AP
Closed pumps are seen on the forecourt of a petrol station in Manchester, England, on Monday, September 27. The petrol station was one of many across the UK which ran out of fuel after an outbreak of panic buying. AP
A fuel delivery is made to a petrol station in Manchester, England, which had run out of fuel after an outbreak of panic buying in Britain over the past several days. AP Photo
A fuel delivery is made to a petrol station in Manchester, England, which had run out of fuel after an outbreak of panic buying in Britain over the past several days. AP Photo
1
2

Lines of cars formed at some British gas stations for a fourth day on Monday, as the government mulled sending in the army to help ease supply disruption triggered by a shortage of truck drivers.

As the British Medical Association called for emergency workers to be given priority for fuel supplies, Petrol Retailers Association Chairman Brian Madderson said training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel to drive tankers.

The government said it had “no plans at the moment” to deploy troops, but was making preparations just in case.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said on Sunday that about two-thirds of its members were reporting that they had run out of fuel, as the driver shortage set off a round of petrol panic buying.

The government insisted that the United Kingdon, UK, had “ample fuel stocks,” and blamed the problems on consumer behaviour.

“The only reason we don’t have petrol on the forecourts is that people are buying petrol they don’t need,” said Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of council at the British Medical Association, said healthcare workers and other essential services staff should be “given priority access to fuel so they can continue their crucial work and guarantee care to patients”.

Roland McKibbin, a self-employed electrician in London, said he had to cancel jobs because he couldn’t get gas.

“I rely on fuel to travel to jobs, no fuel means I can’t drive, which means I can’t get to jobs with my tools,” he said. “So, basically, the panic-buying idiots have lost me income, and directly taken food off the table for my wife and five year-old son, because I can’t wire people’s houses from home, unfortunately.”

The haulage industry says the UK is short as many as 100,000 truckers, due to a perfect storm of factors, including the coronavirus pandemic, an ageing workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Britain’s departure from the European Union, EU, last year. Post-Brexit immigration rules mean EU citizens can no longer live and work visa-free in Britain, as they could when the UK was a member of the bloc.

Several countries, including the United States and Germany,are also experiencing a shortage of truck drivers. But the problem has been especially visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and shuttered gas pumps.

In an effort to ease the gas crunch, the government said it was temporarily suspending competition laws so fuel firms can share information and target areas where supply is running low.

It is also bringing in military driving examiners to help clear a backlog of new truckers awaiting tests, though Eustice said “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,” he added.

And, after weeks of mounting pressure over shortages, the UK’s Conservative government announced on Saturday that it will issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent a Christmas without turkey or toys for many British families.

The government said it would issue 5,000 three-month visas for truck drivers, starting in October, and another 5,500 for poultry workers.

But that falls far short of the number needed. Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the announcement was “the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”.

Representatives of European truckers were sceptical that many would want to come to the UK for such a short time. The visas are due to expire on December 24.

Edwin Atema from the Dutch FNV union, which represents drivers across the Europe, said the visa plan was “a dead end”.

AP