Fuel crisis and empty shelves may continue until Christmas, business minister admits

‘No guarantee’ supply problems will be solved soon, says Kwasi Kwarteng

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 29 September 2021 11:32
Kwarteng confirming troops will be 'on the ground' in the next few days

The supply crisis which has seen fights at petrol forecourts and empty supermarket shelves could continue until Christmas, a cabinet minister has conceded.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he hoped the immediate upheaval with fuel shortages was easing – revealing that soldiers would be “on the ground” and driving tankers within a few days.

Despite the emergency measures taken by the government, Mr Kwarteng admitted that Britain’s country’s supply chain woes caused by the drastic shortage of lorry drivers could last for months.

Asked if the government was certain the problems would be solved for the run-up to Christmas, Kwarteng said: “I’m not guaranteeing anything. All I’m saying is that, I think the situation is stabilising.”

Mr Kwarteng told broadcasters: “The last few days have been difficult, we’ve seen large queues. But I think the situation is stabilising, we’re getting petrol into the forecourts. I think we’re going to see our way through this.”

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) has there are “early signs” that the crisis at the pumps is ending, and James Spencer, head of Portland Fuel, told the BBC on Wednesday that “the worst is behind us”.

However, Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association in London, said there was little sign of the situation improving on the ground on Wednesday morning. “It has not got any better.”

Fuel industry chief have said it could take another month to recover fully from the immediate crisis after an outbreak of panic-buying left thousands of pumps dry in recent days.

Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that the government was making plans for the UK to cope “through to Christmas and beyond” with the threat of empty shelves and fuel shortages, despite saying the immediate crisis was starting to “improve”.

“What we want to do is to make sure we have all the preparations needed to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in supply for petrol stations but all parts of the supply chain,” he said.

It comes as the boss of retail giant Next warned of price hikes and said staff shortages could impact its deliveries in the run-up to Christmas.

The government has also committed to issuing 5,000 temporary, three-month visas to foreign drivers, but Next chief executive Lord Wolfson – a prominent Brexit supporter – called on the government to take a “decisive approach” by further easing immigration rules.

“I hope that going forward the government looks further into the future and doesn’t wait until the crisis is upon it,” said the Brexit backer.

Labour frontbencher David Lammy blamed the Brexit deal for Britain’s ongoing driver shortage. “There are not queues to get fuel in France, in Spain, in Germany, but there are fuel queues in our own country,” the MP told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Meanwhile, shortages at filling stations in Scotland are still “more acute” than normal, deputy first minister John Swinney said on Wednesday – though he insisted that the situation north of the border was “improving”.

The SNP minister said that if there was a “need to prioritise access for emergency personnel, we will take the steps to do that” – but added that this would have to be done “in consort with the UK government”.

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