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Government considers calling up army – as competition laws suspended to tackle fuel crisis

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The government is considering using the army to help with fuel deliveries as some petrol brands report as many as 90% of their sites running dry.

One petrol station reported a 500% spike in demand compared to last week, with motorway service stations being given refill priority.

It comes as Downing Street announced on Sunday it was temporarily suspending competition laws to allow the fuel industry to target petrol stations most in need of fresh supplies.

Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association, told LBC: “We did a straw poll yesterday morning of a number of our members who have around 200 sites between them.

Fuel supply crisis: Live updates as people queue outside petrol stations and cause congestion on roads

“50% of those we spoke to said their sites were dry and some actually said 90% of their sites were dry, so it is on a company-by-company basis and almost on a brand-by-brand basis because some oil companies are still relatively okay in terms of deliveries.”

Brian Madderson from the PRA added that dry sites are being restocked but “the number of tankers that they’re receiving are below the number that they need to be properly restocked at their normal level of between 40% and 50%”.

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He described the purchasing rate as “frenzied” and told the BBC the forecourt closures and depleted pumps were down to “panic buying, pure and simple”.

He said the problem was caused by somebody leaking a confidential BP submission to a cabinet meeting ten days ago.

He continued: We had problems of HGV shortages of drivers getting fuel tankers to the forecourts, but it wasn’t a critical situation at that stage.

“The fact that she or he leaked the document, broadcast, there was panic buying right across main urban centres in the UK.”

As many as 40,000 HGV driver applications are waiting to be processed in Swansea, he added.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met industry executives on Sunday to try to find a way through supply chain pressures that have led to panic-buying of fuel.

In a statement, he said: “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.

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Transport Secretary: ‘Carry on as normal’

“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.

“We thank HGV drivers and all forecourt staff for their tireless work during this period.”

On Sunday, BP said: “We are experiencing fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK. This is being caused by delays in our supply chain due to a shortage of qualified drivers – this issue is impacting industries across the UK.”

It estimated around 30% of its 1,200 UK sites do not currently have either of the main grades of fuel.

“We welcome the government’s decision to issue temporary visas to truck drivers,” it said.

However, the prime minister is considering using the army to help deliver supplies amid a chronic shortage of HGV drivers to man the fuel tankers.

The government’s competition announcement means the industry will be temporarily exempt from the Competition Act 1998 for the purpose of sharing information and optimising supply.

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It will make it easier for suppliers, producers and hauliers to work together and prioritise deliveries to locations most in need.

In a statement, industry stakeholders said: “We are in regular contact with government ministers and policy officials and it was reassuring to meet with the business secretary again on Sunday evening and discuss further action.

“We will continue to work closely in partnership over this period with local and national government and want to reassure the public that the issues that have arisen are due to temporary spikes in customer demand, not a national shortage of fuel.”

The government will be hoping the new measures help ease the pressures brought on by a HGV driver shortage, which has seen supermarkets struggle to fill their shelves and petrol stations overrun by motorists.

On Saturday night, the government revealed it would offer short-term visas for foreign hauliers to come to the UK and help plug the gap.

Thousands more drivers will be trained up too, with the government fast-tracking those who want to get out on to the roads as soon as possible.

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Fuel crisis is ‘manufactured’

However, the move has been widely criticised by the industry.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said the measures “will do little to alleviate the current shortfall”.

“Supermarkets alone have estimated they need at least 15,000 HGV drivers for their businesses to be able to operate at full capacity ahead of Christmas and avoid disruption or availability issues.”