BP and Esso petrol stations closed as lorry driver shortage hits UK

BP‘s head of UK retail Hanna Hofer described the situation as ‘bad, very bad’ and could continue for weeks

Anna Isaac,Joe Middleton
Friday 24 September 2021 11:03 BST
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Some of the UK’s biggest petrol station operators have warned of a shortage of fuel at the forecourt, risking widespread disruption for UK drivers.

BP has already been forced to close a number of stations after supply was hit by a lack of HGV drivers to deliver fuel, while ExxonMobil said a “small number” its Esso petrol forecourts have also been affected.

The supply issues, which are believed to have struck dozens of petrol stations, come as Hoyer, one of the UK’s largest fuel logistics companies revealed it is struggling to meet deliveries for a host of clients including BP, Esso and Shell due to driver shortages.

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BP‘s head of UK retail, Hanna Hofer, described the situation as “bad, very bad” and warned the government it was important they grasp the “urgency of the situation”. Ms Hofer said the company had “two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations” and told ITV News the level is “declining rapidly”.

Under emergency plans, BP will provide 80 per cent of its normal service levels to nine in 10 of its petrol stations, meaning that a range of locations will not be restocked for one and a half days each week.

Motorways will be prioritised and restocked as normal. Ms Hofer added that the next few weeks will be “really difficult”, but that fuel stocks should stabilise and start to rebuild at some point in October.

Labour’s Jim McMahon, the party’s shadow transport secretary, described the situation as a “rapidly worsening crisis” which the government had “failed to heed the warnings of for a decade”.

He said: “Sticking plaster solutions are not going to solve it. Ministers must take decisive steps now to tackle the 90,000-driver shortfall. If they fail to take action, the responsibility for every empty shelf, every vital medicine not delivered and every supplier not able to meet demand lies at the Conservatives’ door.”

When asked about the prospects of Britons “panic buying” fuel, a government spokesman said: “there is no shortage in fuel in the UK so people should continue to buy it as usual”.

They added: “We recognise the challenges facing industry and have already taken action to increase the supply of HGV drivers, including streamlining the process for new drivers and increasing the number of driving tests.”

“We continue to closely monitor labour supply and work with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points.”

Despite the government’s insistence that there is no shortage of fuel, the problem of logistics facing the petrol industry show signs of becoming more acute.

There have been closures of petrol stations as far apart as Aberdeen, the Isle of Wight and the Southeast of England in recent months all signaling the strain on delivery schedules. Drivers often make as many as four deliveries to petrol stations per day.

As Hoyer is one of the largest companies specialising in fuel distribution, its problems indicate that pressure will mount yet further on other businesses offering the same services within the sector, according to a source with knowledge of fuel distribution.

The widespread shortage of HGV drivers which support UK supply chains has been at the top of industry bodies’ concerns in recent months, from food to fuel. With test centres shut and many HGV drivers from the EU returning home during the pandemic, it has created a shortage of qualified drivers. The problem has already caused visible disruption at supermarkets.

Several of the UK’s largest businesses and industry bodies have requested that government relax visa requirements to help ease the specialist labour shortfall.

Calls from Morrisons and Ocado for the Government to add HGV drivers to its skills shortage jobs list, to allow EU workers to fill the shortfall, were investigated but not implemented following pressure from the Home Office. BP is understood to have asked the Government for similar support on a temporary basis.

Gordon Balmer, an executive director at the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent forecourts across the UK, said some sites are suffering from delays, particularly those in London and south-east England.

He said: “Like many industries, the retail fuels sector is under supply pressure from a lack of trained HGV drivers. At a PRA member event in the north last week, retailers with a wide variety of fuel brands confirmed there were no supply outages. But some sites are confirming delayed deliveries and so any issues appear confined to London and the South-East and appear temporary by nature.”

Mr Balmer recommended that motorists keep enough fuel in the tank to reach alternative filling stations in the “rare instance” that fuel is not available at the first one they visit, and said that “the resilience of retail fuels is not in question”.

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