Boris Johnson must ‘stop hiding away’ and end panic buying of petrol, says government’s former crisis chief

‘It’s called leadership’, says ex-head of civil contingencies

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 28 September 2021 13:26
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Fuel crisis: Army drivers put on standby to deliver to petrol stations

Boris Johnson must stop “hiding away” and tell the British public to stop the panic buying of petrol, according to the former government planning chief who managed the fuel crisis of 2000.

Mike Granatt, the ex-head of the civil contingencies secretariat, said it was time for the prime minister to make clear announcement about the scale of the fuel crisis.

“It’s called leadership. Somebody needs to stand up and say this to people rather than hide away,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The former planning chief praised former prime minister Tony Blair for solving the fuel crisis by delivering a clear message that the country could not cope with any more panic buying.

“In 2000 the prime minister at the time got a grip on this stiff,” said Mr Granatt. “[Blair] stood shoulder to shoulder literally with the fuel operators and gave a press conference and explained to people unless we all slow down [buying] the system would not get back into balance.”

Mr Granatt said the “seminal” moment of the 2000 fuel crisis was when the government’s realised it would take three weeks of normal petrol buying to rebalance the system.

He said the crisis demanded Mr Johnson break political conventional by making clear media announcement during the Labour Party conference in Brighton. “I find this explanation about party conferences to be just that – an excuse,” said Mr Granatt.

The government has announced that Army tanker drivers have been put on standby in preparation to ease the drastic short of lorry drivers and help deliver fuel in order to reduce disruption at petrol stations.

Defence sources have said that 75 military drivers have been put on standby initially – with a further 75 along with 150 support staff available if needed, with several days of specialised training still required before soldiers can be deployed.

Asked if the military deployment would be enough, Mr Granatt said: “In the numbers we are talking about? I don’t think so. I think it’s being done for the purposes of reassuring people that government is doing something.”

The panic buying of petrol shows no sign of ending, retailers have warned, as long queues were again reported outside stations open on Tuesday morning.

The British Medical Association (BMA) called for key workers to be given priority at petrol forecourts, saying NHS and care workers “can’t afford” to spend hours waiting for fuel. “We need urgent action today from the government,” said the BMA’s Dr David Wrigley.

The NASUWT education union said teachers should be prioritised for fuel access or risk further disruption to schools. “The government must urgently consider making teachers a priority group for access to locally available petrol and diesel fuel supplies,” said general secretary Patrick Roach.

Brian Madderson, chair of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) told the Today programme that “disappointingly” people were continuing to panic buy fuel.

He said: “As soon as a tanker arrives at a filling station, people on social media are advising that a tanker has arrived and then it is like bees to a honey pot. Everyone flocks there and ... within a few hours it is out again.”

The petrol retailers’ chief said the idea of prioritising key workers for fuel was unworkable. He described it as a “very complex situation”, adding that it should be a “last resort”.

Mr Madderson also said that his members were not putting a £30 cap on customers filling up at their stations, unlike some retailers. “It is confrontational, we don’t want to put our staff at risk with confronting their customers, so that has got some merits, but also a lot of demerits.”

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee, has said the army should be mobilised immediately – not just put on standby – to “regain public confidence” and held end the fuel crisis.

In an attempt to alleviate the shortage in heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, the government has also announced plans to issue 5,000 temporary three-month visas to foreign drivers.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said he was “very worried” about the impact of the fuel shortages on the delivery of healthcare.

“It would be an absolute disaster if nurses, midwives and doctors can’t get to the bedsides of their patients,” said Mr Ashworth, speaking at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton.

“Ministers need to get a grip. If we weren’t at conference we would all be in parliament dragging ministers to the House of Commons to answer for this.”

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