Petrol crisis: Fuel shortages ‘getting worse’ in London and Southeast as queues cause gridlock outside stations

Government has insisted situation is ‘stabilising’ as army prepare to deliver fuel to pumps

Daniel Keane
Saturday 02 October 2021 22:09

Health secretary Sajid Javid claimed the petrol crisis was ‘stabilising’

The UK's fuel crisis is "getting worse" in some areas, an industry boss has warned, as queues outside petrol stations caused gridlocked traffic for the second weekend in a row.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, stressed the situation remained "critical" in London and the southeast, despite claims from government ministers that the situation has stabilised.

Large queues and closed forecourts were reported across the capital on Saturday. Aerial footage from Honeypot Lane in northwest London showed dozens of cars lining up to enter a garage on the corner of a roundabout.

BBC journalist Lewis Goodall also tweeted that queues in one area of south London were "even longer" than the previous week and were causing "considerable congestion".

Mr Madderson said that while there had been an improvement in the north of England and Scotland, fuel shortages remain a "really big problem" in London and the southeast. He added: "If anything, it had got worse".

Speaking to Sky News, he revealed that a survey conducted by his organisation has found that 16 per cent of more than 1,000 sites checked on Saturday had no fuel. It marked an improvement on the 27 per cent reported to be dry on Friday, but local bottlenecks remained.

"We need a prioritisation of deliveries to filling stations – particularly the independent ones which are the neighbourhood retail sites – in London and the southeast starting immediately," he added.

Elsewhere, one petrol station in Chelsea, central London, was charging close to double the average price for fuel on Saturday morning shortly before selling out completely. Cloisters Gulf Petrol station in Sloane Avenue was selling fuel for £2.68 per litre – nearly twice the average price of £1.36.

Mr Madderson said rising global oil prices meant motorists should expect higher prices at the pumps when filling stations are restocked. He added: "Expect anything from 1, 2 or even 3p a litre increases at the pump. This is not profiteering. This is genuine wholesale price increases caused by global factors."

Military drivers will be deployed to deliver fuel to forecourts from Monday in a bid to tackle the crisis. Almost 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, have been training at haulier sites and will start deliveries to help relieve the situation at petrol stations.

Mr Maddison said the use of the military would be a "large help" but warned it would have a "limited impact" in hard-hit areas. "This isn't going to be the major panacea", he added.

Despite industry bosses warning that the crisis remains far from over, health secretary Sajid Javid on Saturday sought to reassure Britons that the situation was "stabilising" in most parts of the country and the military is only being deployed as a "precaution".

"I think it is right that as a precaution that the government has asked the military to help," he told Sky News. "I think that is the right measure to take to make sure that people have all the confidence that they need.

"I think that will further stabilise the situation and give more confidence."

The government on Friday announced a U-turn on its emergency visa scheme, with 5,000 foreign food haulage drivers able to extend their temporary visas beyond Christmas Eve.

Some 300 of the haulage drivers will be encouraged to come to Britain immediately and allowed to stay until the end of March, after fears that shortages could cause chaos over the festive period.

Mr Javid conceded that there would be "competition for drivers" with other European countries, but he was "confident" the scheme would attract more EU drivers. He added: “In the short-term I think it’s right to try to see we can get more drivers [from abroad]. I think that will work.”

Labour has written to home secretary Priti Patel demanding clarity on when the overseas drivers will arrive and how long they will be allowed to stay.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds reminded Ms Patel that as long ago as 5 August, transport secretary Grant Shapps dismissed his call for changes to the immigration points system to reflect the HGV skills shortage, telling him: “I do not support using foreign labour to tackle a long-standing issue in the haulage industry.”

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson did not rule out the prospect of supply disruption at Christmas. In an interview with The Times, 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'".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Daily Mail there is global disruption to supply chains in other industries but admitted that the shortages were “very real”.

"We're seeing real disruptions in supply chains in different sectors, not just here but around the world," he told the newspaper. "We are determined to do what we can to try to mitigate as much of this as we can."

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