Britain to deploy army amid fuel crisis

October 2, 2021 - 20:40

TEHRAN - Despite reassuring the public that the fuel crisis is easing, Britain will start deploying the military from Monday to deliver fuel to petrol stations, many of which are still dry after a chaotic week grappling with a fuel supply shortage. The government has urged the public not to panic, but that is exactly what has happened; panic-buying, fights at gas pumps, and drivers hoarding petrol in water bottles.

With a severe shortage of truck drivers that have strained the supply chain to breaking point, the government says 200 military tanker personnel, 100 of which are drivers, will complete their training by Saturday and Sunday and then start delivering the fuel on Monday.

Queues of often angry drivers waited at the gas stations that were still open in London. The decision to send in the army came as the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, issued a gloomy warning that shortages of goods could last until Christmas.

"These shortages are very real" Sunak said in an interview. "We're seeing real disruption in supply chains in different sectors" and admitting that families face a "challenging" winter, the British Chancellor added, "We're determined to do what we can to try to mitigate as much of this as we can."

"We're seeing real disruption in supply chains in different sectors."Other senior government officials have been alarmed at how slowly the fuel supply disruption is improving, with motorists being forced to queue hours for fuel at petrol stations after more than a week of rarely seen chaos and a sign of what the future holds for the UK.

The country's defense minister Ben Wallace has claimed that "while the situation is stabilizing, our Armed Forces are there to fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move by supporting the industry to deliver fuel to forecourts."

Downing Street says the military personnel are currently undertaking their training sites across Britain.
Last Sunday, the government announced an unprecedented plan to issue temporary visas for 5,000 foreign truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to alleviate shortages.

Petrol retailers paint a bleaker picture saying more than 2,000 gas stations are dry and reporters across London and southern England said dozens of pumps are still closed.

Nevertheless, some of the truck drivers are declining their visas because the timeframe is not long enough.

On Friday, the government changed those plans, instead of introducing a particular scheme which will allow some 300 fuel tanker drivers to arrive in the UK immediately but temporarily. The 300, which form part of the 5,000, can work in the UK until the end of March 2022. The remaining 4,700 drivers will arrive from late October and leave by the end of February 2022.

In addition to short-term fixes, other reports say the government has asked thousands of Germans residing in the UK to drive trucks to assist with the shortage in Heavy Goods Vehicles shortage, even if they have never driven one before.

London says it is also working hard to find long-term solutions to the shortage of Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers through improved testing and hiring, better pay, working conditions, and diversity. To help with recruitment, the government also says it is collaborating with freight associations to drive up standards of lorry parking facilities, helping to make the Heavy Goods Vehicle industry more attractive for prospective drivers and supporting the wellbeing of those currently working as lorry drivers. Other moves include an immediate increase in Heavy Goods Vehicle testing, and new skills boot camps to train up to 4,000 more people to become Heavy Goods Vehicles drivers.

The government will also extend the new visa scheme to 5,500 farm workers who will arrive from late October and stay until the end of December. Amid criticism about booting the domestic labor force instead, the government defended the decision. It highlighted the gravity of the situation by saying, "the introduction of this temporary, time-limited visa measures does not detract from our commitment to upskill and increase the wages of our domestic labor, but is in recognition of the extraordinary set of circumstances affecting the stability of the UK supply chain."

The shortages of lorry drivers and farm workers come in the wake of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic that has sown disarray through some sectors of the economy, disrupting deliveries of fuel and medicines and leaving more than 100,000 livestock backed up on farms.

A taxi driver who was first in a line of more than 40 cars outside a closed supermarket at one petrol station has been quoted as saying, "I am completely, completely fed up. Why is the country not ready for anything? When is it going to end? The politicians are not capable of doing their jobs properly. The government should have been prepared for this crisis. It is just incompetence."

Other taxi drivers say they have lost about 20% of their average earnings this week because they have been waiting for fuel rather than picking up customers. The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said members reported that 26% of pumps were dry, 27% had just one fuel type in stock, and 47% had enough petrol and diesel.

The PRA has stated that the fuel situation at forecourts was slightly improving, but far too slowly. Independent petrol retailers were not receiving enough fuel to meet demand more than a week after the first shortages were reported.

Gordon Balmer, who is the executive director of the PRA, says, "Independents, which total 65% of the entire network, are not receiving enough deliveries of fuel compared with other sectors such as supermarkets,"

Ministers in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government claim the world is facing a global shortage of truck drivers and that they are working to ease the crisis. They deny that the situation is a consequence of an exodus of EU workers following Britain's departure from the bloc and have dismissed concerns the country is heading toward a winter of shortages and power cuts.

However, despite some shortages of truck drivers in other countries, the 27 European Union member bloc of nations from which the United Kingdom withdrew has not experienced any fuel shortages.

The ruling Conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has claimed for days that the crisis is abating or even over. Still, again retailers say more than 2,000 gas stations were dry. Reports across London and southern England indicate dozens of pumps were still closed.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer says the government wasn't moving fast enough. "The Prime Minister should be taking emergency action today, but yet again, he's failed to grasp the seriousness of the crisis. If it needs legislation, then let's recall Parliament".

It does appear that Downing Street has come under pressure to act as the government's announcement on sending in the army to tackle the fuel crisis came just hours after Starmer demanded it. It also followed a warning by the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent garages, that said more than a quarter of its filling stations have no fuel left.

Calling on Boris Johnson to "take emergency action to get a grip," Starmer called for extended opening hours for petrol stations to help the National Health Service (Britain's health sector) shift workers and other key workers. He also urged the Prime Minister to recall parliament and hold an emergency summit of the road haulage industry, training providers, business groups, government ministers, and transport unions to focus on what he described as an immediate crisis.