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Behave normally, fuel-starved Britons told

BUSINESS
By Reuters | September 27th 2021

Cars queue up at a petrol and diesel filling station, Begelly, Pembrokeshire, Wales, Britain, September 24, 2021. [Reuters]

BP said nearly a third of its British petrol stations had run out of the two main grades of fuel on Sunday as panic buying continued despite the government pleading with motorists to behave normally and insisting there was no fundamental shortage.

Lines of vehicles formed at petrol stations for a third day running as motorists waited, some for hours, to fill up with fuel after oil firms reported a lack of drivers was causing transport problems from refineries to forecourts.

Some operators have had to ration supplies and others to close gas stations.

"With the intense demand seen over the past two days, we estimate that around 30% of sites in this network do not currently have either of the main grades of fuel," BP, which operates 1,200 sites in Britain, said in a statement.

"We are working to resupply as rapidly as possible."

The fuel panic comes as Britain faces several crises: an international gas price surge that is forcing energy firms out of business, a related shortage of carbon dioxide that threatens to derail meat production, and a shortage of truck drivers that is playing havoc with retailers and leaving some shelves bare.

Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell (RDSa.L) said that it has been seeing increased demand across its UK fuel stations since Friday, leading to a shortage of supplies of some grades of fuel. "We are replenishing these quickly, usually within 24 hours," it said in a statement.

Transport minister Grant Shapps appealed for calm, saying the shortages were purely caused by panic buying, and that the situation would eventually resolve itself because fuel could not be stockpiled.

"There's plenty of fuel, there's no shortage of the fuel within the country," Shapps told Sky News.

"So the most important thing is actually that people carry on as they normally would and fill up their cars when they normally would, then you won't have queues and you won't have shortages at the pump either."

'Manufactured situation'

Shapps said the shortage of truck drivers was down to COVID-19 disrupting the qualification process, preventing new labour from entering the market.

Others pinned the blame on Brexit and poor working conditions forcing out foreign drivers.

The government on Sunday announced a plan to issue temporary visas for 5,000 foreign truck drivers.

But business leaders have warned the government's plan is a short-term fix and will not solve an acute labour shortage that risks major disruption beyond fuel deliveries, including for retailers in the run-up to Christmas.

Shapps called the panic over fuel a "manufactured situation" and blamed it on a hauliers' association.

"They're desperate to have more European drivers undercutting British salaries," he said.

An Opinium poll published in the Observer newspaper on Sunday said that 67% of voters believe the government has handled the crisis badly. A majority of 68% said that Brexit was partly to blame.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, speaking at his party's annual conference in southern England, said ministers had failed to plan for labour shortages following the 2016 Brexit vote and called for a bigger temporary visa scheme.

"This is a complete lack of planning: we exited the EU ... just one consequence was there was going to be a shortage of HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) drivers. That was predictable, it was predicted," he told the BBC.

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