Army drivers to be deployed to deliver fuel to station forecourts | Supply chain crisis
Military drivers will be deployed to deliver fuel to forecourts from Monday as the crisis at the pumps continues.
Almost 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, have been training at haulier sites and will start deliveries to help relieve the situation – which ministers insist is stabilising.
The government also announced that a temporary visa scheme for nearly 5,000 foreign food haulage drivers, which was due to expire on 24 December, would be extended to the end of February, after criticism of how attractive it would be to drivers.
Opposition parties suggested it might be necessary to recall parliament to address wider labour shortages and supply chain disruption.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, said the temporary visa scheme would not be up and running “for weeks”, and added that the prime minister should, if necessary, recall parliament to rush through legislation to ensure that the shelves remained stocked in the run-up to Christmas.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said Boris Johnson “must immediately recall parliament and convene cross-party talks to set out steps to effectively tackle the Brexit crisis”.
He added: “The severe labour shortages, soaring costs, empty supermarket shelves, ongoing fuel crisis and trading barriers are all inflicting serious and lasting harm.”
The government announced on Friday evening that 300 overseas fuel tanker drivers would be able to come to the UK “immediately” under a bespoke temporary visa that would last until March.
About 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be extended beyond the initial three-month period and will last from late October to the end of February.
To ease farming shortages, 5,500 poultry workers will be allowed in to help keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas.
The government has said these workers, who can arrive from late October, will be able to stay up to 31 December under the temporary visa scheme.
But it said the visas would not be a long-term solution; it instead wanted employers to invest in the domestic workforce rather than rely on overseas labour.
The government said it was working with the industry to find long-term solutions to the HGV driver shortage and to encourage more people to enter the logistics sector by improving pay and conditions.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said the fuel situation was “stabilising” in most parts of the country and the military was being deployed as a “precaution”.
He told Sky News on Saturday morning: “I think it is right that as a precaution that the government has asked the military to help. 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.”
But the chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent fuel retailers, said fuel shortages were getting worse in some parts of the country.
Brian Madderson said it remained a “really big problem” in London and the south-east.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “In London and the south-east and possibly parts of eastern England, if anything it had got worse.”
Madderson welcomed the announcement that military drivers are to be deployed from Monday, but warned it will have a limited impact.
“This isn’t going to be the major panacea,” he said. “It’s a large help but in terms of the volume, they are not going to be able to carry that much.
“We do need a prioritisation of deliveries to filling stations – particularly the independent ones which are the neighbourhood retail sites – in London and the south-east starting immediately.”
Rising world oil prices meant motorists should expect higher prices at the pumps when filling stations were resupplied, he said. “Expect anything from 1, 2 or even 3p a litre increases at the pump. This is not profiteering. This is genuine wholesale price increases causes by global factors.”
The government has said there is no national fuel shortage, but the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, told the Daily Mail there was global disruption to supply chains. He said: “These shortages are very real. We’re seeing real disruptions in supply chains in different sectors, not just here but around the world.
“We are determined to do what we can to try to mitigate as much of this as we can.”
The Financial Times reported that millions of British Christmas dinners would be saved by turkeys being imported, after the chief executive of the British Poultry Council, Richard Griffiths, told the paper that the UK’s big producers had reduced consumption by about a fifth this year because Brexit had cut off their supply of cheap labour.
A turkey farmer told the paper imported birds were likely to come from France and Poland.