Great Britain

UK petrol shortage - live: Ministers to mull HGV driver visa changes amid long queues to fill up on forecourts

Brexit ‘part of the solution’ to lorry driver shortage, says Grant Shapps

Ministers are meeting to discuss lifting some visa requirements for HGV drivers, a senior government source has said, in a bid to stem the UK’s deepening logistics crisis.

Long queues formed at some petrol stations on Friday in spite of transport secretary Grant Shapps’ assertion that motorists should “carry on as normal”, after BP, Tesco and Esso warned of a lack of fuel at some of their forecourts as a result of the HGV driver shortage.

Mr Shapps insisted he would “move heaven and Earth” to ease the supply chain crisis and did not rule out deploying the army to forecourts or relaxing visa rules to ease an estimated shortfall of 100,000 drivers, which the Road Haulage Association said was caused by Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and problems with pay and conditions.

While business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and home secretary Priti Patel have been opposed to waiving visa requirements until now, the source described “an appetite to show that the government is throwing the kitchen sink at the problem of supply disruptions”. Although such a move was hailed as a “godsend” by one haulage boss, they added that it was a “very short-term, partial fix”.

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Shell reports increased demand at some petrol stations

Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell has now reported increased demand for fuel at some of its petrol stations, after .

“We are seeing an increased demand today for fuel at some of our stations, which may in some instances result in larger queues. We are adapting our delivery schedules to ensure sufficient supplies for our customers,” a spokesperson said.

According to the Reuters news agency, a handful of Shell petrol stations are thought to have run out of fuel.

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Tory MPs 'won't object to relaxation of visa rules'

A Conservative MP has welcomed the idea of relaxing visa rules to ease the crisis, and said he did not think fellow Tory backbenchers would object, Adam Forrest reports.

“I’ve got no problem with it if we’ve got a shortage [of drivers] that we don’t seem to be able to provide for domestically at the moment,” Craig Mackinlay told The Independent.

Mr Mackinlay, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for motorists and hauliers, said: “I don’t know of one colleague who wouldn’t be happy with it – it’s not a stick-in-mud issue about controlling our own visa system and not wanting people in from the EU. Not at all.”

The MP said he hoped pay rises in the sector would encourage more young people to become HGV drivers. “We need to make this job more attractive … but you can’t just turn on the supply of drivers overnight.”

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Voices: We face a perfect storm of crises – and Boris Johnson is making things worse

The economic crisis we are drifting into is comprised, dangerously, of many crises, each with their own characteristics, and all in normal times more than enough to deal with – but now all combining to give the British people a bit of a pasting this winter, writes our associate editor Sean O’Grady for Independent Voices.

He suggests that aside from the inflation crisis, the energy crisis and another Covid crisis, the shortage of competent governance is the most critical crisis of all – and that makes all the other crises that bit more acute.

The prime minister can’t be blamed for everything. But the country has been badly-served by his avoidance of hard choices

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Visa relaxation would be ‘godsend’, albeit a ‘very short-term, partial fix’, haulage chief says

Rob Hollyman, director of Youngs Transportation and Logistics, said hauliers would breathe a “huge sigh of relief” if the government relaxes visa rules for lorry drivers, Ben Chapman reports.

“It will open up the gates to the Eastern Bloc drivers who are in Romania and Czech Republic and Slovakia to get themselves back here and get driving," he said.

“It's been very tough. We have been very short of drivers. It would be a godsend.

However, he added that it was “a very short-term, partial fix”. He called for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week testing of drivers to clear a backlog of 40,000 drivers waiting to obtain their HGV licences.

The haulage industry also wants rules requiring drivers to complete 35 hours of classroom learning to be suspended so that people who have left the industry can rejoin quickly.

“In an ideal world a refresh of knowledge can't do any harm but we're not in an ideal world. We are in a very, very bad state of affairs. It needs quick action and the government have proved time and again they are slightly behind the average speed of a glacier.”

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‘Appetite to show government throwing kitchen sink’ at supply crisis, as Cabinet committee meets for talks

Our economics editor Anna Isaac reports:

There is a meeting of the National Economic Recovery Taskforce (NERT), a cabinet committee, this afternoon to discuss the logistics crunch in the UK, The Independent understands.

This will weigh the possibility of lifting some visa requirements for HGV drivers, according to a senior government source. However, ministers have been divided over the issue for weeks, with the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and home secretary Priti Patel having been opposed to waiving visa requirements until now.

It's unlikely to prove a quick fix, however, the source added, as there's a shortage of lorry drivers which extends across Europe and in the US, too.

There are also other reasons, such as changes to tax rules for self-employed people, that have made the UK a more challenging market for some workers, which also lie behind recent labour shortages, they added. But, they said, there was “an appetite to show that the government is throwing the kitchen sink at the problem of supply disruptions”.

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Jair Bolsonaro claims Boris Johnson asked for ‘emergency’ food help

Brazil’s autocratic president Jair Bolsonaro has unexpectedly waded in on the UK’s supply chain crisis, claiming that Boris Johnson had requested an “emergency” deal to import an unspecified food product facing shortages in England.

Brazil is a major producer and exporter of turkeys, and there have been fears the UK could fall foul of a shortage this Christmas as a result to the HGV driver and CO2 crises.

Downing Street said it had a different recollection of Mr Bolsonaro’s account of the conversation during talks at the UN summit on Monday, but did not comment further.

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Talk of ‘panic buying’ deflects from ‘real’ failures, government scientific advisor says

Talk of “panic buying” merely encourages the phenomenon and deflects from the real failures of the government, a member of the government’s scientific advisory panel on behaviour has suggested.

Professor Stephen Reicher of St Andrew’s University referred back to an article he wrote in response to reports of panic buying at the start of the pandemic, which argued that consumers buying toilet rolls and other goods said to be at risk of shortage were not “panicked”, but displayed an “entirely reasonable” response to widespread descriptions of others acting in such a way.

Writing for the British Psychological Society, he said “the concept of ‘panic’ has largely been abandoned by those who study disasters since it neither describes nor explains what people do in such situations” as “people don’t generally act irrationally or selfishly in crises”.

“To the contrary, recent research emphasises how experiencing a common threat or danger can lead people to develop a sense of shared identity or ‘togetherness’ and, where this happens, it leads in turn to enhanced cooperation and support for others,” Prof Reicher said.

However, this “shared identity can be undermined by creating divisions and inducing competition between people”, he wrote, adding that stories employing the language of “panic” can “help create the selfishness and competitiveness which turns sensible preparations into dysfunctional stockpiling”.

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‘No need for panic buying’, Road Haulage Association says

The Road Haulage Association has urged people to be “sensible” and also to “consider, in the short term, whether their journeys are necessary”, my colleague Ben Chapman reports.

Kate Gibbs, head of communications, added: “There is no shortage of fuel. There is no need for panic buying or great queues outside petrol stations. That doesn't help anybody.

“Fuel will get through, it will just take a bit longer. As long as people are sensible and they don't panic buy they will be OK. If people don't panic buy then there is no difference to the way people get their fuel.

Ms Gibbs questioned the assertion of Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, that Brexit was not a cause of a shortage of lorry drivers that has resulted in some forecourts running out of fuel.

“I find it a little bizarre. All of the issues like access to labour markets, visas, this is all within the government's hands.”

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UK newspapers reference ‘spectre’ of the 1970s and warn of ‘winter of woe chill’ for Boris Johnson

Here’s some of the reaction to the supply chain crisis today in the UK media, which will likely make stark reading for the government.

In an editorial headlined “Boris will feel chill if UK has winter of woe”, the Daily Mail warned that “voters will drag him to Earth with a political bump if he fails to get a grip on the looming winter woes”.

And following the Bank of England’s prediction that inflation will peak at 4 per cent this winter,The Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth writes in The Times – under a headline claiming the “spectre of the Seventies haunts the Tories” – that “the cost of living is once again going to become the biggest issue in British politics”.

Meanwhile, BBC Newsnight’s policy editor Lewis Goodall suggests a “crisis of confidence is developing throughout the British economy”.

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Germany’s gas supply is secure, officials say

Germany’s economy ministry has insisted that its gas supply is secure amid concerns in the UK and around the world over a spike in prices.

“Supply security in Germany remains high,” a spokesperson told Sky News, adding that the country’s gas storage, with a capacity of 24.6 billion cubic metres, was 64.69 per cent filled.

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