© Reuters. A BP petrol station that has run out of fuel is seen in London, United Kingdom on September 26, 2021. REUTERS / Paul Childs
By Guy Faulconbridge and Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) – Gas station pumps ran dry in UK cities on Monday and sellers rationed sales as a shortage of truckers put a strain on supply chains.
A shortage of truck drivers after Brexit as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides has sown havoc in the UK supply chains from food to fuels, fueling the specter of disruption and price hikes in the run-up to Christmas.
Drivers stood in line for hours to refuel their cars at gas stations that were still selling fuel, albeit often on a rationed basis. It was also called for priority to be given to the National Health Service (NHS) staff to keep the hospitals open.
“When the pumps run dry, there is a real risk that NHS staff will not do their job and provide vital services and care to people in need,” said Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of the Council of the British Medical Association.
Tanks in UK cities were either closed or had signs saying fuel was not available on Monday, Reuters reporters said, with some restricting the amount of fuel any customer could buy.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent fuel retailers who now account for 65% of all gas stations in the UK, said members have reported that 50 to 90% of pumps are dry in some areas.
“We need some rest,” Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA, told Reuters. “Please don’t panic about buying: when people drain the network, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Royal Dutch Shell (LON 🙂 said it had an above-average demand for fuel in its UK network and that some locations were becoming scarce for some types of fuel.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said there was no shortage of fuel. He urged people to stop panic buying and said there were no plans to get the army to drive trucks, although the Department of Defense was helping with truck driver testing.
However, hauliers, gas stations and retailers said there were no quick fixes because the shortage of truck drivers – estimated at around 100,000 – is so acute and transporting fuel requires additional training and licenses.
For months, supermarkets, processors and farmers have been warning that a shortage of truck (truck) drivers is stretching supply chains to the limit and making it harder to get goods onto shelves.
The government on Sunday announced a plan to grant temporary visas to 5,000 foreign truck drivers.
But Andrzej Dobrowolski, a 44-year-old Pole who owns a construction and transportation company in the UK, said many drivers would laugh at such a suggestion.
“Boris Johnson invites the drivers back and they laugh,” said Dobrowolski. “They say: why should you leave your company in Poland or Bulgaria or Romania or anywhere in the EU for four months?”
“What the British don’t understand is that it’s not just about money,” he said. “Your offer is at least three years out of date.”
Amid warnings of a bad winter ahead, some politicians in the European Union linked supply chain stress to the 2016 Brexit referendum and the UK’s subsequent decision to seek a distant relationship with the bloc.
“The free movement of workers is part of the European Union, and we have tried very hard to convince the British not to leave the Union,” said Olaf Scholz, the social democratic candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor.
“They made a different decision. I hope they will cope with the resulting problems,” said Scholz.
British ministers have insisted that Brexit has nothing to do with the current truck shortage, despite around 25,000 truck drivers returning to Europe prior to Brexit. The UK was also unable to test 40,000 drivers during the COVID-19 lockdowns.