Gas Lights Are Blinking: UK Fuel Crisis Is Getting Worse

October 4, 2021 - 18:33

TEHRAN - An industry boss has issued a stark warning about Britain's fuel crisis, saying the problem is getting worse in some regions as queues outside petrol stations caused gridlocked traffic for the second consecutive weekend.

The chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, Brian Madderson, has stressed the crisis remains "critical" in London and the Southeast of England, despite claims from government ministers that the situation has stabilized.

Madderson says that while there has been a "distinct improvement" in the north of England and Scotland, fuel shortages remain a "really big problem" in London and the south-east before adding, "If anything, [the shortage] had got worse."

Speaking to British media, he revealed that a survey conducted by his organization has found 16 percent of more than 1,000 sites checked had no fuel at all.

The government claims there is enough fuel at UK refineries, but a shortage of drivers has slowed down its transport to some petrol stations.

He also warned, "we need a prioritization of deliveries to filling stations, particularly the independent ones which are the neighborhood retail sites, in London and the south-east starting immediately."

The Petrol Retailers Association represents nearly 5,500 of the United Kingdom's 8,300 petrol stations.

On Monday, about 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, will start deliveries to offer "temporary" support.

Madderson added that while he did not object to this move, he believed it would have a limited impact. "This isn't going to be the major panacea, it's a big help, but in terms of the volume, they are not going to be able to carry that much. We do need a prioritization of deliveries to filling stations, particularly the independent ones, which are the neighborhood retail sites – in London and the south-east, starting immediately."

Very long queues and closed forecourts have been reported across the British capital. Aerial footage from an area in northwest London showed dozens of cars lining up to enter a garage on the corner of a roundabout.

A journalist has taken to social media to report that queues in one area of south London were "even longer" than the previous week and were causing "considerable congestion."

One petrol station in Central London was charging almost double the average fuel price shortly before selling out completely.

Another station on a major London road was selling fuel for £2.68 per liter, nearly twice the average price of £1.36.

On Friday, the government announced 300 fuel tanker drivers would come to the UK from overseas "immediately" under a special temporary visa scheme. About 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be offered.

A further 5,500 poultry workers can come from late October and stay until 31 December under the temporary visa scheme.

There are already demands from Labour and other opposition parties for parliament to be recalled so that thousands of emergency visas for heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers and poultry industry workers can be approved. Ministers have had to extend the length of the new HGV driver visas into next year after criticism that they were too short-term to attract workers. The opposition Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, says the temporary visa scheme would not be up and running "for weeks."

The Labour leader added that Prime Minister Boris Johnson should recall parliament from the party conference recess to rush through legislation so that products remain on the supermarkets' shelves in the run-up to Christmas.

The Scottish National party's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, says Johnson "must immediately recall Parliament and convene cross-party talks to set out steps to effectively tackle the Brexit crisis."

He added, "The severe labour shortages, soaring costs, empty supermarket shelves, ongoing fuel crisis, and trading barriers are all inflicting serious and lasting harm."

Labour has also written to the ruling Conservative Party demanding clarity on when the overseas drivers will arrive and how long they will be allowed to stay.

Meanwhile, Johnson has not ruled out the prospect of supply disruption at Christmas. In an interview, he insisted there would be no further increase in the 5,000 visas for lorry drivers as ministers "can't simply reach for the lever marked 'uncontrolled immigration."

Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party Chancellor, David Lammy, has hit out at the Prime Minister, saying, "this is not Cuba. Why can we not get petrol in this country?

"They're not queuing in Germany; they're not queuing in Spain; they're not queuing in France, despite the problems of lorry drivers across Europe, so what's the difference here?

Lammy adds, "The difference is Boris Johnson, who's useless, who can't see around a corner, who can't plan for a crisis. It's one thing to say let's get Brexit done, but what about let's make Brexit work? Where was Boris' plan? He had no plan."

He goes on today, "we left the customs union. Why would you come to this country if you can go to Spain or Germany without any hassle? If the just-in-time means you're not just bringing stuff, you're taking stuff back. Why would you come if you're now paying tariffs?"

And on the government's pledge to introduce 5,000 visas for HGV drivers, he asked, "how is that going to make a difference when we need 100,000?"

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says there is global disruption to supply chains in other industries but admitted that the shortages in the UK are "very real."

There has also been a backlash from business groups against government claims that the shortages of drivers and workers in agriculture, meat processing, and hospitality are part of a deliberate "transition" away from an economy that used to rely on foreign labor before Brexit to a higher-wage economy using skilled workers based in the UK after Brexit.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, earlier said Britain would have to "tough it out" as the "transition" was made, saying, "having rejected the low-wage, high-immigration model, we were always going to try to transition to something else. What we're seeing now is part of that transition."

Business leaders have immediately challenged those comments, who argue that most wages had already been increasing, there were already shortages in higher-wage industries, and there was never a massive pool of available workers in Britain.

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, argues, "the UK's departure from the European Union has reduced the supply of labour available to UK businesses for roles that currently cannot be filled locally."

"The difference is Boris Johnson, who's useless, who can't see around a corner, who can't plan for a crisis.”

"Business will support the government's ambition to move to a sustainably high-skilled, high-wage economy which does more to harness homegrown skills and talents, but this a huge transition that will not happen overnight. An individual business or sector cannot make this adjustment alone.

"It requires government and business to come together to develop a plan for the future which addresses short-term challenges and meets longer-term ambitions. Simply riding it out is not an option. Our economic recovery will be curtailed unless action is taken now."

Kitty Ussher, a chief economist at the Institute of Directors, says labor shortages went beyond low-wage jobs; "More of our members report shortages among managers, professions and skilled workers than reported shortages in the sectors that are traditionally lower-paid."

He adds, "we need a systemic response from government, not a sticking plaster."

Meanwhile, according to a new poll, more than half of Britons think Boris Johnson has done a lousy job of ensuring supplies of essentials like petrol and keeping the cost of living down in the wake of Brexit.

The survey, which also found public dissatisfaction with the prime minister's performance on Brexit, comes amid a vital Conservative Party Conference at which Johnson will attempt to recast the central purpose of his government after two years of crisis management with an optimistic "building back better" slogan.

Speaking before the conference, the Premier vowed the government would not let the UK go back to how it was pre-Covid but wants "things to change and improve as we recover."

But with long queues at many petrol stations and the army set to be deployed. Many Tories fear he will struggle to turn around an increasingly gloomy mood as voters face the new reality of labor shortages, empty supermarket shelves, cuts to benefits, and looming tax rises.

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