Fuel shortage: British government suspends competition laws to battle petrol panic buying

About 3,600 outlets are out of fuel, with the rest 'partly dry and running out soon', association says

The British government has suspended competition laws to deal with fuel shortages caused by panic buying, ministers said.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met oil companies and retailers on Sunday to address another day of queuing for the pumps, with thousands of petrol stations running dry.

A scuffle at a north London petrol station was posted on social media as motorists waited to fill up their tanks in a bout of “frenzied buying”.

It followed concerns from BP, which were leaked to the media, that the tanker driver shortage could hamper its ability to keep up with fuel deliveries.

Mr Kwarteng temporarily exempted the industry from the Competition Act to allow it to share information so it could identify areas where fuel supply is running low.

The activation of the Downstream Oil Protocol came as the Petrol Retailers Association warned as many as two-thirds of its membership of nearly 5,500 independent outlets were out of fuel, with the rest “partly dry and running out soon”.

“We have long-standing contingency plans in place to work with industry so that fuel supplies can be maintained and deliveries can still be made in the event of a serious disruption," Mr Kwarteng said.

“While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

“This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.”

Companies including Shell, ExxonMobil and Greenergy in a joint statement repeated that the pressure on supply was caused by “temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel”.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson told the BBC the shortages were caused by “panic buying, pure and simple”, with oil companies giving priority to keeping motorway service station pumps filled.

The government earlier announced a temporary visa scheme for 5,000 foreign tanker drivers and 5,500 poultry workers on three-month contracts up to Christmas Eve, to try to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and deal with fuel delivery problems.

But retailers said the decision to relax immigration rules to fix supply problems was “too little, too late” to keep shop shelves fully stocked this Christmas.

Updated: September 27th 2021, 4:01 AM
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