Soldiers on standby: Shapps won't rule out using army to drive lorries in shortage crisis

24 September 2021, 10:49 | Updated: 24 September 2021, 10:53

By Sophie Barnett

The armed forces could be tasked to help drive lorries in the UK following a global shortage of HGV drivers which is leaving petrol pumps dry and shelves stripped bare.

The Transport Secretary was quizzed on LBC about the shortage that has hit the UK in recent weeks, with around 100,000 drivers not working in the industry, according to the Road Haulage Association.

The minister stumbled when he was asked by Nick Ferrari about Operation Escalin, which could see lorry drivers replaced by the military, as reported in The Times.

"I'm not sure I'm familiar with Operation Escalin," admitted Mr Shapps.

Nick replied: "Rather worrying you're the Transport Secretary, Secretary of State, and you don't know the operation that the newspaper does?

Mr Shapps said he hasn't been referring to any of the measures "under code names".

"When I do something like double the number of tests available at testing centres I just get on and do it."

Read more: Shelves empty, pumps dry and bills soar, but No10 says ‘shop as usual’

Read more: BP to ration fuel deliveries to petrol stations as company hit by HGV driver shortages

Nick then asked how low stocks would have to be and how many petrol stations would have to close before the involvement of the military would be deemed necessary.

"Well, I'll look at all of these things and military… it could be a wide range of different things from of course helping to test, to helping to drive," said the minister.

"Right now I just want to be clear... we spoke to (BP) last night, where they said that five out of 1,200 forecourts were unable to stay open - so just to put that in proportion.

"There's plenty of fuel in the refineries, there's no shortage of fuel, it is only the question of the delivery and it's not the situation as we've seen in the country before, where the distribution network's on strike or blockaded or anything like that."

Read more: Tesco warns Christmas panic buying could be 'far worse' than during Covid

Read more: Hundreds of thousands of people not using their HGV licenses, says Minister

BP revealed on Thursday that it will be rationing its fuel deliveries to petrol stations amid a shortage of lorry drivers and fuel stocks that are "declining rapidly".

The company said already a "handful" of petrol stations have had to close due to a lack of fuel being delivered.

Elsewhere, supermarket bosses have warned of possible food shortages due to the scarcity of drivers.

Andrew Woolfenden of Tesco said: "Our concern is that the pictures of empty shelves will get ten times worse by Christmas and then we'll get panic buying."

He said Tesco has only managed to attract as many drivers as it has lost to rival businesses over the summer despite offering £1,000 recruitment bonuses since July.

Other companies that have been affected by supply shortages include M&S, Amazon, McDonald's, and Wetherspoons.

Read more: Wetherspoons, IKEA and 100,000 pigs: Who has been affected by Brexit supply chain issues?

Iceland boss Richard Walker says that while he has concerns about supplies over the bumper Christmas season, there is no need for consumers to stockpile as it would damage the grocery sector's supply chains.

a spokesperson for trade body Logistics UK urged people "not to panic buy".

They said the industry was "resilient" and said it "will continue to serve the needs of the nation".