The fuel industry says there are signs the UK fuel crisis is easing – but Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has warned he is “not guaranteeing anything” over whether the chaos will have an impact on Christmas.
Days of chaos have seen motorists forming long queues for petrol with fuel pumps running dry amid fears that issues arising from the crisis could extend through to the end of the year.
A shortage of tanker drivers has hit supplies across the country sparking panic buying – and now retailers have warned the government that the crisis is threatening their stock lines with the festive season approaching.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, members of the fuel industry – including Shell UK, BP and Esso Petroleum UK – said they are “now seeing signs that the situation at the pumps has begun to improve”.
“Today we met with the business secretary and continue to work closely with the government to maintain regular deliveries of fuel to stations, supported by the welcome deployment of the Reserve Tanker Fleet today,” the statement said.
“We remain confident that the situation will stabilise further in the coming days and encourage everyone to fill up as they normally would to help forecourts return to normal.”
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) represents two-thirds of all UK forecourts and said there were “encouraging signs” the situation with supplies was improving.
Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA, said: “There are encouraging signs that the crisis at the pumps is easing, with forecourts reporting that they are taking further deliveries of fuel.
“Only 27% of PRA members have reported being out of fuel today, and with regular restocks taking place, we are expecting to see the easing to continue over the next 24 hours.”
But while Mr Kwarteng said it is “welcome news” that “the situation is stabilising”, he said he could not guarantee that the fuel crisis would not have an impact on the festive period in December.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Mr Kwarteng said the “government’s Reserve Tanker Fleet will be on the road this afternoon to boost” fuel deliveries across the country.
When asked if the fuel crisis would have an impact on Christmas, Mr Kwarteng said: “I’m not guaranteeing anything, all I’m saying is that I think the situation is stabilising.
“I think people realise that this will pass and we are very focused… (on) getting enough drivers, we have stepped up military drivers and we are making sure we are getting petrol into the forecourts that can actually mean we have enough supply for demand.
“If we look at the deliveries of petrol, they were matched yesterday by the sales, so that means the situation is stabilising.”
He said the public could see soldiers driving some tanker vehicles in the coming days as part of measures to try to tackle the supply issues.
Welcome news from the fuel industry that supplies are slowly returning to normal
Huge thanks to those working flat out to further ease pressures at the pump
The sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal https://t.co/GcBJ07Zwxz
— Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) September 29, 2021
“We have made preventative measures. We have tried to alleviate the HGV driver shortages by lifting visa rules,” he said.
“Anyone versed in military defence issues knows that it takes a couple of days, sometimes a few days, to get troops on the ground.
“We have decided to do that. I think, in the next couple of days, people will see some soldiers driving the tanker fleet.”
Retailer Next warned its services would likely experience “some degradation” as the festive season approached without appropriate action.
“For the sake of the wider UK economy, we hope that the government will take a more decisive approach to the looming skills crisis in warehouses, restaurants, hotels, care homes and many seasonal industries,” the fashion giant said.
Boris Johnson added the government was putting in place preparations to ensure “all parts of our supply chain” – not just petrol – were able to “get through to Christmas and beyond”.
Speaking on Wednesday, Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said “there is not fundamentally a problem with a lack of fuel in the refineries”.
“There is an underlying problem which relates to the availability of drivers, that is not just in the UK for example, but in Poland and other countries,” he said.
“It is important for viewers to understand that there is not fundamentally a problem with a lack of fuel in the refineries, it is just the challenge of getting it to stations, and we are taking a huge number of steps to address that.”