Army on standby as fuel crisis enters day five and fears grow for Christmas disruption

27 September 2021, 22:00 | Updated: 29 September 2021, 00:15

By Daisy Stephens

The military is being put on standby to be drafted in to help tackle the fuel crisis, the Government has confirmed.

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The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said on Monday that some military tanker drivers are being put on standby and undergoing specialist training so they can be drafted in to deliver petrol if the supply chain issues continue.

"While the fuel industry expects demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, it’s right that we take this sensible, precautionary step," said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

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"The UK continues to have strong supplies of fuel, however we are aware of supply chain issues at fuel station forecourts and are taking steps to ease these as a matter of priority.

"If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localised demand for fuel."

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has signed off the request for military assistance on Tuesday, with up to 300 troops able to be deployed if required.

It is reported that 150 drivers and 150 drivers' mates could be made available under Operation Escalin.

"They're still on standby but can now start training now it's approved," a Government source said.

The developments come as fears grow about what the supply chain disruption could mean for Christmas.

Speaking to broadcasters on Tuesday, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to fill up with petrol "in the normal way" and said: "All we want to do is make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through to until Christmas and beyond, not just in the supply [to] petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain."

He added: "We've got to make sure we have everything in place as the recovery continues and that's what we're doing."

When questioned on the disruption lasting beyond Christmas, Mr Johnson said: "We want to make sure that as the economy continues to recover... that the UK is prepared."

As the gas crisis continues the Government has fallen under increasing pressure for emergency workers to be prioritised and put to the front of queues if they need fuel.

The British Medical Association said today that health and care workers "can't afford" to spend hours waiting for fuel and patients could suffer.

Sadiq Khan said yesterday: "As the current reductions in fuel delivery affect petrol stations across the capital, it is essential that key workers are able to get fuel to travel to work and provide the services our city needs.

"In the fuel crisis of September 2000, the government brought in rules designating specific filling stations for essential workers, enabling the capital to keep moving.

"The Government must urgently look at taking the necessary steps putting such measures in place, so that those key workers who have to drive to work can do so."

The Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) request to put the army on standby was issued by Mr Kwarteng on Monday.

It comes just hours after Environment Secretary George Eustice told LBC there were "no plans" to involve the army.

Mr Eustice said: "We are bringing Ministry of Defence trainers in to accelerate some of the HGV training to clear a backlog of people who want to carry out those tests, and there's definitely a role there for the MOD.

"In terms of other things we've no plans at the moment to bring in the army to actually do the driving, but we always have a Civil Contingencies section within the army on standby - but we're not jumping to that necessarily at the moment."

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But on Monday evening Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Armed Forces "stand ready" to relieve pressures on the industry.

"The men and women of our Armed Forces stand ready to alleviate the transport pressures where they are felt most," said Mr Wallace.

"That is why I have authorised their increased preparedness so they are ready to respond if needed."

In addition to this, the transport secretary Grant Shapps has authorised an extension to ADR driver licences, which allow drivers to transport fuel.

Previously, drivers whose licences were due to expire between September 27 and December 31 would have had to take time out to complete refresher courses.

But now they will be able to extend the validity and take the course in January 2021, leaving more drivers free to transport fuel in the coming months.

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"We are starting to see panic buying moderate – with more grades of fuel now available at more petrol stations," said Mr Shapps.

"Even though the current network of tanker drivers is capable of delivering all the fuel we need – we have taken the additional step of asking the army to help plug the gap, whilst new HGV drivers come on stream thanks to all the other measures we’ve already taken.

"Extending ADR licences will further help ease any pressures on fuel drivers by removing the need for refresher training courses and ensuring they can keep providing their vital service on our roads."

Last weekend saw motorists flood to petrol stations after BP warned the Government that supply chain disruption may prevent them from delivering fuel to all their stations.

The surge in demand put more pressure on the industry, with many petrol stations running low on fuel, or even selling out altogether.