Fuel crisis spreads across UK as surging prices hit drivers hard

Pumps continue to lie empty as the government considers calling on soldiers to make deliveries

The fuel shortages blighting Britain have reached inside prime central London areas to the filling stations of Chelsea and Mayfair, which commuters typically avoid due to higher prices and the likelihood of facing the congestion charge.

Forecourts remain vacant across the country after running dry or, conversely, are packed as soon as a delivery arrives.

A shortage of delivery drivers caused some stations to run out initially, creating a surge in demand and subsequent panic-buying.

The UK government has urged people not to be greedy when they arrive at the pumps and take only what they need, but drivers continue to hoard petrol.

People have been spotted filling up jerry cans and empty water bottles at forecourts while others have complained about being late to work due to huge queues.

Gulf petrol station in Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, which charges nearly 50 per cent more for a litre of petrol than the UK average, had its pumps closed off on Monday and Tuesday.

Drivers had turned to the garage after the crisis erupted last week, and paid over £2 per litre of petrol.

Another site which was closed off to all vehicles on Monday was the Esso garage on Park Lane opposite Hyde Park in Mayfair, inside the £15 congestion charge zone. Staff were anticipating a delivery to arrive on Tuesday.

However, there were some signs the crisis may have peaked.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Tuesday welcomed "tentative signs of stabilisation" in the fuel crisis, but scolded motorists who have stockpiled petrol in water bottles.

He said pressure was starting to ease after petrol stations replenished their tanks, but said the situation would not return to normal until drivers returned to their usual buying habits.

Urging drivers not to collect stocks of fuel, Mr Shapps said: “No more water bottles at petrol stations – it’s dangerous and not helpful.”

The chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, Brian Madderson, said that while demand was down from the levels seen at the weekend, it was still "well above the norm".

“The extreme demand levels witnessed over the weekend have eased somewhat,” he told Sky News.

"There is still a problem out there. There is still a bit of panic buying, there is still queuing but we are hopeful that we are seeing the first signs of a move towards equilibrium later in the week.”

Some petrol stations were continuing to run dry after shortages linked to Brexit, the pandemic and the clamour for fuel.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, accused ministers of reducing the country to chaos.

“I spoke to the haulage sector this morning, to the businesses that are absolutely in the middle of this, and they are beyond frustrated,” he said.

"They said it's a government that is denying there's a problem, then blaming somebody else, and then coming up with a half-baked plan."

The average price of petrol at UK forecourts rose from 134.86p per litre on September 20 to 135.19p per litre on Monday, amid the fuel shortage at filling stations.

The figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show the average price of a litre of diesel rose from 137.35p to 137.95p over the same period.

The RAC said the wholesale price of petrol was at its highest level in eight years.

The motoring organisation warned that the situation could worsen as retailers pass on the cost of rising wholesale prices.

Meanwhile, the UK government is coming under mounting pressure to ease the chaos sparked last week after a confidential BP document was leaked to the media.

The report exposed the firm’s fears about the chronic shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers in the UK.

Last week BP announced it was rationing fuel deliveries as it lacked enough drivers to keep up with the existing schedule.

On Tuesday there were long queues outside petrol stations for the sixth day running as drivers desperately tried to fill up.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the army on standby and soldiers are being given specialist training in preparation to drive fuel tankers.

Mr Shapps has rejected criticism that ministers have been too slow to help deal with the problems.

Mr Shapps said: “There is a series of escalations that you go through in a crisis like this. We have already put 18 different steps in place which stretch right the way back to the spring.

“The system was just about coping until last weekend and it would have been capable of continuing to do so.

“Unfortunately, as we have seen with toilet rolls and other things, once people start to pursue a particular item, it can quickly escalate.

“But there is only so much petrol you can transfer into tanks. That is starting to work its way through.”

Mr Shapps said the Covid-19 pandemic had been the primary cause of the HGV driver shortage but admitted Brexit had also been a “factor”.

Last year thousands of driving tests for people hoping to gain heavy-goods vehicle licences were cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

“Brexit I hear mentioned a lot and it no doubt will have been a factor,” he said.

But he also said Britain’s decision to leave the EU had enabled politicians to change rules to be able to test more drivers at a faster pace.

“So, it has actually worked in both ways,” he added.

Updated: September 28th 2021, 4:42 PM
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