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The military will be deployed to transport fuel from next week, the UK government has announced, while visa restrictions on overseas HGV drivers and poultry workers will be loosened in a bid to tackle the country’s growing supply-chain crisis.
Nearly 200 military tanker personnel, including 100 drivers, will start delivering fuel to forecourts across the country from Monday as part of “Operation Escalin”.
The military will spend the coming days finishing their training at haulier sites ahead of the start of the operation, the Ministry of Defence said on Friday night.
As part of a package of measures aimed at easing pressure on petrol stations and other essential services, the government has also expanded its visa scheme for overseas workers.
Last week, the government announced that 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers from abroad would be eligible to work in the UK until Christmas.
However, the government has now said that 300 tanker drivers from abroad will be able to arrive in the UK and start work immediately. They will be permitted to work in the country until March next year.
Meanwhile, 4,700 food-haulage drivers who arrive in the UK from late October will be able to work in the country until February 28 2022, and 5,500 poultry workers who arrive in the UK from late October will be permitted to stay and work until December 31 2021.
The government has been battling all week to alleviate the crisis, which was sparked by warnings from oil majors that a shortage of tanker drivers had disrupted fuel deliveries at a small number of petrol stations.
Although there was no national shortage of fuel, the warning sparked panic buying that drained up to 90 per cent of forecourts in some parts of the country.
Ministers on Friday praised the efforts of the sector and sought to reassure the public, arguing that the new series of measures would help to keep the country running.
“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,” said Steve Barclay, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
“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.”
“It’s important to stress there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal,” added Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary. “The sooner we return to our normal buying habits, the sooner we can return to normal.”
Meanwhile, earlier on Friday, the UK’s independent fuel retailers complained that restocking petrol stations was taking too long.
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents the independent garages that make up about two-thirds of the UK’s 8,000 petrol stations, said that roughly 26 per cent of its members’ sites were still out of fuel on Friday.
That compared with 27 per cent on Wednesday and Thursday, and an estimated 37 per cent on Tuesday. “Whilst the situation is similar to recent days, there are signs that it is improving, but far too slowly,” Gordon Balmer, the group’s executive director said.
Independent retailers were not being restocked as quickly as oil company-owned garages and supermarket sites, he said, adding that, until the frequency of deliveries increased, the UK would continue to have “long queues” at forecourts, particularly around London and the south-east.
Data from EdgePetrol, which provides software to service stations, showed that fuel stocks at some retailers remained well below average.
At a random sample of 467 petrol stations serviced by EdgePetrol, tank levels on Thursday were at 24 per cent of maximum capacity, compared to a 2021 average of 39 per cent. Last Saturday, after “huge volumes” were sold on Friday September 24, average tank levels had fallen to 17 per cent, EdgePetrol said.
Navigation software company Waze said it had recorded a 170 per cent increase in journeys to petrol stations between September 23, before the crisis, and September 29, as users rushed to refuel their cars, adding that user activity around petrol stations remained “very high”.
Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw