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Bringing in the army won’t halt petrol crisis, says fuel industry boss | Supply chain crisis


Ministers have been told that petrol queues in some parts of the country have become worse and army help will not relieve the problem, amid a growing business backlash over the government’s handling of the shortages crisis.

Military drivers are set to be deployed from Monday to deliver fuel to forecourts, after NHS staff and key workers were caught up in queuing that has persisted for days. The health secretary, Sajid Javid, was the latest cabinet minister to attempt to calm concerns yesterday, stating that issues around petrol were “stabilising” in most parts of the country and that military involvement was just a precaution.

However, Brian Madderson, the chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said it remains a “really big problem” in some areas. “In London and the south-east, and possibly parts of eastern England, if anything it has got worse,” he told the BBC’s Today programme. “[The use of the military] isn’t going to be the major panacea. It’s a large help but in terms of the volume, they are not going to be able to carry that much. 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.”

Business leaders have complained privately that ministers have been “missing in action” while fuel shortages due to a lack of HGV drivers have led to the closure of thousands of petrol stations. Recent estimates show that around half of the UK’s 8,300 petrol stations were without fuel this weekend.

A lack of workers has forced farmers to leave crops to rot in the ground and to send animals for slaughter without any certainty that abattoirs have enough workers to process them. The National Pig Association said Britain was facing an “acute welfare disaster” within a matter of weeks, with farmers forced to kill as many as 120,000 pigs because of a shortage of butchers and slaughterers.

Kwasi Kwarteng
Kwasi Kwarteng said Britain would have to ‘tough it out’. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/Rex/Shutterstock

There are already demands from Labour and other opposition parties for parliament to be recalled so that thousands of emergency visas for HGV drivers and poultry industry workers can be approved. Ministers have had to extend the length of the new HGV driver visas into next year after criticism that they were too short-term to attract workers.

There is now a backlash from business groups against government claims that the shortages of drivers and workers in agriculture, meat processing and hospitality were part of a deliberate “transition” away from an economy reliant on foreign labour to a higher-wage economy using skilled workers in the UK.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said Britain would have to “tough it out” as the change was made. “Having rejected the low-wage, high-immigration model, we were always going to try to transition to something else,” he told the ConservativeHome website. “What we’re seeing now is part of that transition.”

Those remarks have been immediately challenged by business figures, who said that most wages had been increasing already, there were shortages in higher-wage industries and there was not a huge pool of available workers in Britain.

“The UK’s departure from the European Union has reduced the supply of labour available to UK businesses for roles that currently cannot be filled locally,” said Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce.

“Business will support the government’s ambition to move to a sustainably high-skilled, high-wage economy which does more to harness homegrown skills and talents, but this a huge transition that will not happen overnight. An individual business or sector cannot make this adjustment alone.

“It requires government and business to come together to develop a plan for the future which addresses short-term challenges and meets longer-term ambitions. Simply riding it out is not an option. Our economic recovery will be curtailed unless action is taken now.”

Kitty Ussher, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said labour shortages went beyond low-wage jobs. “More of our members report shortages among managers, professions and skilled workers than reported shortages in the sectors that are traditionally lower paid,” she said. “We need a systemic response from government, not a sticking plaster.”

Retailers also hit back. Tom Ironside, from the British Retail Consortium, said wages within the industry had risen by 44% since 2008. “Despite this, recent labour shortages – from HGV drivers to warehouse staff – have exposed an absence of suitably trained candidates for roles throughout the retail industry and its supply chains,” he said.

“Retailers are working hard to train and retain British talent, increasing wages, investing in training programmes and offering apprenticeships schemes. However, the government must address the immediate HGV driver shortage and we urge government to extend their new visa scheme, in scope and size, to prevent disruption for consumers this Christmas.”



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