Army starts training to drive fuel tankers TODAY but crisis could last a MONTH: School pupils stranded by no-show buses, ‘30%’ of black cabs off road, blood donor couriers immobile, home deliveries cancelled… as cars queue at pumps before sunrise
British soldiers will start to deliver fuel by the weekend amid fears the crisis at the pumps could last until the end of October as drivers queued through the night outside petrol stations across the UK for the sixth day running.
Ever-increasing swathes of the economy and public services also continued to be hit with school buses cancelled, blood deliveries stopped, nurses sleeping on wards and up to a third of London‘s black cabs now parked up with empty tanks.
Speaking for the first time as the crisis approached a week, Boris Johnson last night urged frustrated drivers to remain calm yesterday as violent scenes compared to the ‘Wild West’ erupted at petrol stations around the country.
Motorists accused each other of jumping queues or taking too much fuel, with fist fights breaking out and one driver even threatening another with a knife. The ugly confrontations led to fears among police chiefs that officers may be drafted in to guard garages if the crisis continues.
Petrol stations face disruption for up to a month even if panic buying stops, industry figures have warned as the Army is set to start driving fuel tankers to petrol stations this week – despite Boris Johnson‘s claim petrol panick-buying is ‘stabilising’.
The Prime Minister was accused of a ‘half-baked’ response to the fuel crisis earlier tonight as he dismissed calls for key workers to get priority at petrol stations.
Industry sources have told The Times that disruption could carry on for weeks, even if panic buying dies down, due to the time it would take to restock petrol stations. One source said they expected BP to keep tackling issues throughout next month.
The PM has resisted calls for the Army to be called in but from today around 150 military hauliers are undergoing training to become fuel tanker drivers and are expected to qualify within the next few days. A government source said there were no plans to deploy them and that they would be on standby as ‘an insurance policy’.
Vehicles queuing for fuel overnight on the A20 Swanley by-pass in Kent as industry experts warned the crisis could take a month to pass
This driver showed the queues in Leicester in the pouring rain last night as the Army was drafted in to deliver fuel
The Petrol Retailers Association has said the situation is improving with a third of independent forecourts out of fuel – compared to up to 90% earlier in the week
There were tentative signs that the situation was improving last night, with the Petrol Retailers Association saying that around 37 per cent of the 5,500 independent forecourts it represents were out of fuel. This was down from between 50 per cent and 90 per cent the day before.
But the long queues remain, hitting those who need fuel to keep homes running, care for people in the community and keep the NHS ticking.
School buses in Buckinghamshire have been disrupted – with the owner of one fleet saying it has become a ‘cat and mouse’ game to fill up, managing to find fuel at around 3am because some garages are refusing to let large vehicles use their pumps.
Buckingham Council tweeted: ‘Due to fuel shortages, there are a number of school buses cancelled. We apologise for the inconvenience this is causing. Parents and schools have been notified.’
Volunteers who deliver vital blood products to hospitals for the NHS have been hit by “frustrating” fuel shortages. Up to half of “bloodrunners” in Kent have been unable to go out on runs in recent days because of problems getting fuel.
Johan Pieterse from SERV Kent, a charity that transports crucial blood products for hospitals in the county for free out of hours, said the challenges were “frustrating”. He said: ‘God forbid someone is in hospital needing a blood product or someone is at home and they can’t get it because we are stuck in queues of traffic’.
Boris Johnson tried to calm the chaos by urging the public to ‘fill up in the normal way when you really need it’, although he also warned that the government is working on ‘getting through to Christmas and beyond’.
But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has now signed off the request for military assistance, with up to 300 troops able to be deployed if required.
All military drivers are qualified to be behind the wheel of HGVs but they may need three days’ training to learn how to fill petrol stations with fuel.
Risking infuriating motorists who have been facing extraordinary carnage across the country, Johnson earlier laid the blame on a ‘slightly misleading’ account of the shortages of lorry drivers causing an ‘understandable surge in public demand’.
‘I would really urge everybody to go about their business in the normal way and fill up in the normal way when you really need it,’ he said.
‘What we want to do is to make sure we have all the preparations needed to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in supply for petrol stations but all parts of the supply chain.’
The PM tried to calm the chaos by urging the public to ‘fill up in the normal way when you really need it’ as he stressed that there is no need for panic buying
All military drivers are qualified to be behind the wheel of HGVs but they may need three days’ training to learn how to fill petrol stations with fuel. Pictured, British Army tankers on the move on the A1 near Ripon in North Yorkshire in 2000
In a round of interviews from Labour conference in Brighton today, Keir Starmer said the issues over drivers had been ‘entirely predictable’ and the government’s response far too slow
Two men brawling at a London petrol station after one accused the other of jumping the queue for fuel
Fuel crisis ‘could drive up Covid cases’
Britain’s petrol crisis could drive up Covid cases if commuters rush back onto buses and trains, experts said today amid fears the country is on the cusp of a fourth wave.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, claimed there could ‘certainly’ be a spike as a result of the fuel shortage. Other scientists said it was ‘plausible’.
Hundreds of forecourts across the country have already been run dry by panic buyers, which it’s thought may lead to a sudden clamour for public transport.
Shocking footage showed drivers throwing punches and even brandishing knives during chaotic scenes at petrol stations on Monday.
Doctors and nurses have demanded they are given priority for fuel, saying they need to be able to get to hospitals to treat patients.
Professor Hunter told MailOnline: ‘The move to public transport could certainly increase transmission. And, if the majority of people are not wearing face coverings, then that would make that transmission worse.’
SAGE has previously warned that if commuter levels suddenly return to pre-pandemic levels then it could fuel a fresh wave.
Pressed on whether he would be calling it a crisis if anyone else was in No10, Mr Johnson said: ‘What we have is a recovery after a global pandemic.’
The intervention, in a statement from Downing Street, came as the Labour leader weighed in, saying the issues over drivers had been ‘entirely predictable’ and the government’s limp response had resulted in ‘chaos’.
In a round of interviews from his party conference in Brighton, Sir Keir called for the length of emergency visas for foreign HGV drivers to be doubled to six months.
But he refused to say that Brexit was ‘to blame’, instead arguing that it was an inevitable consequence of the decision that was taken. Aides said the PM’s brief chat with broadcasters exposed that there was still ‘no plan’ and the government was complacent.
The comments came as more fighting broke out on Britain’s ‘Wild West’ petrol forecourts today, with drivers throwing punches and even pulling knives as violent rows broke out in the long queues.
However, minister insist there are ‘tentative’ signs the crisis will ease this week.
Mr Johnson was making his own position clear for the first time, as MPs slammed his decision not to bring in soldiers to deliver fuel immediately to ‘regain public confidence’ and petrol stations started rationing fuel sales at £30.
Mr Johnson said: ‘I want to say, first of all, how much I sympathise with people who’ve been worried about their journeys, worried about whether they’ll be able to use their cars in the normal way, to see their loved ones or whatever it is, and I know how frustrating, infuriating it must have been to worry about shortage of petrol or fuel.
‘We now are starting to see the situation improve; we’re hearing from (the) industry that supplies are coming back on to the forecourt in the normal way.
‘I would just stress that on the forecourts the situation is stabilising and people should be confident and just go back to their business in the normal way.’
Asked whether he agreed that key workers needed priority at the pumps, Mr Johnson said he ‘understands why people say that’ but suggested that instead the situation should ‘stabilise in a normal way’.
On the wider issues, the premier repeated his mantra that wages and training must improve for Britons, rather than bringing in more foreign labour.
‘The actual number of lorry drivers that we’re short in that particular sector isn’t very big. But generally there is a shortage in that profession around the world,’ he said.
‘And what we want to see is an emphasis on high wage, a high-skill, a high-productivity approach to our economy.
‘What I don’t think people in this country want to do is fix all our problems with uncontrolled immigration. Again, we tried that for a long time – 20 years or so, perhaps longer.
‘And in the end, people could see that it was leading to a low-wage, low-skill approach without enough investment in people or in equipment, in capital. And that’s not the way we want the UK to develop and grow.’
Speaking to BBC News in Brighton, the Labour leader said: ‘The Government has reduced the country to chaos as we track from crisis to crisis and the Government is not gripping this.
‘I spoke to the haulage sector this morning to the businesses that are absolutely in the middle of this, and they are beyond frustrated and these were their words, they said it’s a Government that is denying there’s a problem, then blaming somebody else, and then coming up with a half-baked plan. What I would do is give priority to key workers this week.
A fuel tanker is seen at a petrol and diesel filling station at Begelly in Pembrokeshire, Wales on Tuesday evening
A fuel tanker was pictured filling up a station in Begelly, Pembrokeshire, on Tuesday evening
‘And I would issue enough visas for lorry drivers for long enough. At the moment there was some talk this morning on the discussion that the pieces may not even begin until November. And we have to take action today.
‘The Prime Minister should take that action today, prioritise key workers and start issuing enough visas and for long enough. The strong view this morning was that three months visas won’t work, they’ve got to be six months visas.
‘But this problem was predictable and predicted and the Government has absolutely failed to plan.’
Sir Keir resisted blaming Brexit for the shortage of HGV drivers but accepted it was partly a consequence of leaving the European Union.
Speaking to Channel 5 News, the Labour leader said: ‘I wouldn’t say that Brexit is to blame. What I would say is that it was inevitable as we exited the EU that we needed a plan to deal with drivers. That is obvious whether you voted Remain or voted Leave, and we took that decision years ago.
‘And here we are with a shortage of drivers which was completely predictable and predicted – and the Government hasn’t got a plan.’
But later speaking to Sky News, Sir Keir said: ‘What is the sole cause of this problem? The Government has known for some time that there are consequences of us leaving the EU, one of which is lorry drivers.’
Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed the pressure on filling stations is beginning to ease and insisted the Army would remain on standby despite admitting the queues will not disappear yet.
‘There are now the first very tentative signs of stabilisation in forecourt storage which won’t be reflected in the queues as yet,’ he said in a pooled TV clip.
‘But it is the first time that we have seen more petrol actually in the petrol stations. The sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.’
Drivers pack into Wisley South Services in Surrey this morning beside a near deserted A3
Government’s emergency fuel plan suggests rationing and priority pumps for NHS and police are on the way
Rationing of fuel and filling stations just for emergency workers are the likely next steps in the crisis, Government documents reveal.
Under an emergency government plan (pictured), key workers could be given ‘priority access’ to a number of petrol stations.
The plan involves capping the amount of fuel drivers can buy and letting critical workers have ‘priority access’ to pumps.
Another option, the designated filling station scheme, could see ’emergency and critical service vehicles’ having priority access. This was done by Tony Blair’s government during the 2000 fuel crisis.
The document, published last year, reveals the Government’s next steps are:
Designated Filling Station scheme: Emergency and critical service vehicles would be given priority access to road fuel from filling stations
Bulk Distribution Scheme: Oil companies and fuel distributors can be directed to prioritise the delivery of bulk petroleum products to critical services such as emergency services, utilities and public transport.
Commercial Distribution Scheme: Oil companies and fuel distributors can be directed to prioritise the supply of road diesel to the commercial vehicles sector to support the operation of key supply chains, such as food and health.
Maximum Purchase Scheme (rationing): This restricts the sale of road fuels at retail filling stations to the public to a maximum amount per visit to ensure that all motorists have access to some fuel.
The scheme can also limit the hours in which road fuels can be sold.
Crude Oil and Imported Product Allocation Scheme: Government can formally allocate crude oil and other imported oil products within the UK.
As one driver was seen filling mineral water bottles with petrol, he said: ‘No more water bottles at petrol stations: it’s dangerous and not helpful’.
New video has emerged of two men punching and kicking each other across a London Shell station in a row about whose turn it was to fill up. Two women yelling ‘what the f*** are you doing’ broke up the punch-up as one of the fighters pointed at his foe and yelled: ‘He stole my place’.
Amid widespread scenes of enormous queueing across Britain’s forecourts, footage emerged of a man holding what appears to be a knife shouting at a driver outside a petrol station in Welling, south east London. The video then shows the car ramming into the alleged knifeman, who is then carried for several yards on the bonnet.
And it is proving so difficult to get fuel, thieves have been siphoning it from cars, sometimes drilling into the petrol tank, Shadrack Olaloko, from Birmingham, said: ‘What these guys did was they came and drained out all my fuel in the tank’.
The brawls broke out as motorists reported queues at 11pm, 3am and 5.30am across the UK as the Government was accused of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ and critics questioned claims within Whitehall that the crisis will be over within two to three days.
Mike Granatt, former head of Britain’s civil contingencies secretariat, the section of the Cabinet Office responsible for emergency planning in the UK, said today that the Prime Minister should give a TV press conference on the fuel crisis, as Tony Blair did in 2000. He said: ‘It’s called leadership. And we need some. Someone needs to stand up and say this to people rather than hide away’.
Tobias Ellwood, chair of Parliament’s Defence Committee, has said the army should be mobilised, not just put on standby, to ‘regain public confidence’ and stop the fuel crisis.
The Conservative MP told Sky News: ‘The country wants to see the Government is in command and it has a clear cross-Whitehall plan.
‘We have gone from 1 per cent fuel pump shortages to 90 per cent so altering people’s buying behaviour to prevent the panic buying and going back to previous purchasing patterns requires regaining the confidence of the nation.
‘I believe the army should not just be put on standby but in fact mobilised, be seen to be used.
That will help ease the pressure on shortages of course, it will return public confidence, and then on top of that there is the bigger issue about articulating a clear strategy to alleviate the chronic shortage of lorry drivers.’
Such is the panic at the pumps, hundreds more people than usual have been filling up on the wrong fuel. Around 250 flustered drivers have had to be rescued by the AA’s specialist ‘fuel assist’ team on Saturday and Sunday – compared to around 20 in normal circumstances.
One tanker driver told LBC that even they are struggling for fuel because they are spending so much time in queues with drivers also blocking access to HGV pumps.
An industry source said while the claim could be ‘credible’, it is likely to be an isolated incident.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said Britain’s petrol stations had becoming the ‘Wild West’ after he queued for fuel only for it to sell out before everyone got to the pumps.
He said: ‘Man behind me was furious and started punching the guard’, adding it ‘became a melee of 8-10 men on the ground, punching and kicking’.
A driver pulled a knife on a motorist and was then run over outside a Welling petrol station yesterday (pictured)
A member of staff directing the queues at Tesco petrol station at Bar Hill near Cambridge this afternoon in a rain storm
Ascot high street is blocked with cars quitting to get petrol at one of the only fuel stations in the area. Customers are limited to £30 per car
The high street in Ascot was blocked in rush hour this morning after one petrol station in the area got a delivery of fuel
Fuel shortages escalate due to panic buying, as the Shell petrol station near Clapham South has run out
Drivers queue for fuel at an Esso petrol station in Bournville, Birmingham
A closed petrol station in Manchester, as the Government insisted the tide is now turning in the crisis
There is a driver shortage across Europe – with the largest deficit found in Poland followed by Britain and Germany
The Government is putting the military on standby after a widespread shortage of truck drivers, which has led to serious supply problems for retailers and restaurants in the past few months, meaning plentiful stocks of fuel have not reached filling stations.
But critics have said Boris Johnson has known for months that there is a lack of HGV drivers but ministers have had had their ‘heads in the sand’. The Prime Minister has 150 soldiers ready to drive tankers but they will not be brought in yet with one Government source telling The Times: ‘We believe that the crisis will recede in the next few days’.
Grant Shapps has rejected criticism that the Government has been too slow to mobilise the Army to help deal with the fuel crisis.
Ministers announced on Monday they were putting troops on standby to deliver supplies as filling stations continued to run dry.
In a pool clip for broadcasters, Mr Shapps said: ‘There is a series of escalations that you go through in a crisis like this.
‘We have already put 18 different steps in place which stretch right the way back to the spring.
‘The system was just about coping until last weekend and it would have been capable of continuing to do so.
‘Unfortunately, as we have seen with toilet rolls and other things, once people start to pursue a particular item, it can quickly escalate.
‘But there is only so much petrol you can transfer into tanks. That is starting to work its way through.’
He said that Brexit has been a ‘factor’ in the current fuel crisis.
Mr Shapps said the primary cause of the shortages had been the cancellation of HGV driver testing last year due to the pandemic.
However, he added: ‘Brexit I hear mentioned a lot and it no doubt will have been a factor.
‘On the other hand, it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly.
‘So, it has actually worked in both ways.’
Mr Shapps condemned motorists who tried to fill up plastic water bottles with petrol as the panic buying continued.
‘It is dangerous and extremely unhelpful,’ he said.
Under an emergency government plan, key workers could be given ‘priority access’ to a number of petrol stations. The plan involves capping the amount of fuel drivers can buy and letting critical workers have ‘priority access’ to pumps, The Telegraph reports.
Another option, the designated filling station scheme, could see ’emergency and critical service vehicles’ having priority access. This was done by Tony Blair’s government during the 2000 fuel crisis.
Some areas have already seen bin collections cancelled, and teaching unions have warned that schools could need to go back to online learning if teachers cannot drive to work.
A 49-year-old woman, whose parents both have terminal cancer, fears she will be unable to reach the hospital in an emergency after her car ran out of fuel.
The woman from Wilmslow, Cheshire – who did not wish to give her name – said she had to abandon her vehicle in a car park with a message in the window.
‘In a nutshell, if I get a call to hospital I’d not have the diesel to make the journey – very stressful and upsetting, to be honest,’ she told the PA news agency.
‘I’ve had to abandon my car at three miles… (I) left it in the car park with a message in the window explaining why the car has been left and walked home. I just have to hope the car is safe overnight.
‘I won’t be able to see my dad or, in an emergency, (won’t be) able to go to the hospital.’
Volunteers who deliver vital blood products to hospitals for the NHS in Kent have been hit by ‘frustrating’ fuel shortages, a charity says.
Johan Pieterse, secretary and trustee for SERV Kent, said: ‘We have had a drop-off of about 50 per cent of our members who can’t go on rota because they can’t get fuel since Friday night.
‘It’s frustrating because we don’t see the need for the panic buying and all it’s doing is it’s affecting all emergency services, not just us.
‘God forbid someone is in hospital needing a blood product or someone is at home and they can’t get it because we are stuck in queues of traffic.’
Mr Pieterse said that while the charity has managed to cover all its pick-ups and deliveries, some had been delayed and they had been unable to access their headquarters because of queuing traffic.
Pressure on filling stations is starting to ease although demand for fuel remains ‘well above the norm’, the chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association has said.
Brian Madderson said there were indications of ‘a move towards equilibrium’ later in the week.
‘The extreme demand levels witnessed over the weekend have eased somewhat,’ he told Sky News.
‘There are still demand levels well above the norm and as a result many of our members have sites dry. Many of the big groups are down to around 50% of their sites.
‘There is still a problem out there. There is still a bit of panic buying, there is still queuing, but we are hopeful that we are seeing the first signs of a move towards equilibrium later in the week.’
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said health and care workers should be given priority at petrol pumps to prevent ‘people losing their lives’.
After a dizzying 24 hours of dithering over the use of soldiers to plug the HGV driver gap, ministers agreed to put the Army on standby. It is hoped that panic-buying will ease this week to reduce pressure on fuel supplies. But if the crisis does not abate, ministers will trigger ‘Operation Escalin’.
About 150 military tanker drivers were put into a state of readiness under the operation, sources said. Some of them will receive further training in the next few days to be able to deliver fuel if required. The operation, originally conceived in case of a no-deal Brexit, could potentially see hundreds of troops brought in to help.
Chairman of the British Medical Association council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, told The Times that ‘everyone will have their own reasons for needing to fill up, but as pumps run dry there is a real risk that NHS staff won’t be able to do their jobs and provide vital services and care to people who urgently need it’.