British military to deliver fuel as visas extended for lorry drivers

Thousands of temporary workers will be allowed to stay in UK until next year

Drivers queue for fuel at a petrol station in central London. PA
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Military tanker drivers are to be deployed to deliver fuel to forecourts across the country from Monday amid continuing supply issues at filling stations.

Almost 200 military personnel — including 100 drivers — have been undertaking training at haulier sites and will start deliveries to help relieve the situation, which the government says is stabilising.

It was also announced that, following criticism, a temporary visa programme for foreign HGV drivers that was due to expire on December 24 will now be extended to the end of February.

The government said 300 fuel drivers will be able to come to the UK from overseas “immediately” under a bespoke temporary visa which will last until March, and that 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be extended beyond the initially announced three months and will last from late October to the end of February.

It added that demand for fuel has stabilised and there is now more being delivered than sold, but that some parts of the country still face challenges.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay said: “The government has taken decisive action to tackle the short-term disruption to our supply chains and in particular the flow of fuel to forecourts.

“We are now seeing the impact of these interventions, with more fuel being delivered to forecourts than sold and, if people continue to revert to their normal buying patterns, we will see smaller queues and prevent petrol stations closing.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Across the weekend over 200 military personnel will have been mobilised as part of Operation Escalin.

“While the situation is stabilising, our armed forces are there to fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move by supporting the industry to deliver fuel to forecourts.”

A worker guides vehicles into the forecourt as they queue to refill at a fuel station. Reuters

The temporary visa plan was announced last week as panic buying hit filling stations across the UK, with a shortage of HGV drivers having affected supplies of petrol and diesel.

As well as foreign drivers, 5,500 poultry workers will also be allowed in to help keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas.

The government has said these workers will now be able to stay up to December 31.

But it added that the visas will not be a long-term solution and it wants to see employers make investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour.

It said it is also working with industry to find long-term solutions to the shortage of HGV drivers and to encourage more people to enter the logistics by improving pay and conditions.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Thanks to the immense efforts of industry over the past week, we are seeing continued signs that the situation at the pumps is slowly improving. UK forecourt stock levels are trending up, deliveries of fuel to forecourts are above normal levels and fuel demand is stabilising.

“It’s important to stress there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK and people should continue to buy fuel as normal. The sooner we return to our normal buying habits, the sooner we can return to normal.”

Updated: October 04, 2021, 8:55 AM