'Horrendous' petrol crisis worsens in London and South East as army begins fuel deliveries

3 October 2021, 23:29 | Updated: 3 October 2021, 23:31

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told LBC the fuel crisis is "absolutely horrendous" in London and the South East.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told LBC the fuel crisis is "absolutely horrendous" in London and the South East. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Industry leaders have warned the fuel supply is getting worse in London and the South-East of England as the army is set to begin driving fuel tankers from Monday.

The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents thousands of independent forecourts across the country, welcomed the introduction of the military from Monday, as it said fuel shortages were getting worse in some parts of the country.

Chairman Brian Madderson said the crisis is "absolutely horrendous" in London and the South East.

He told LBC on Sunday: "Early signs from our polls this morning show again that the Midlands, North and Scotland, are doing pretty well, and more and more of their filling stations are getting stock. There is far less stock out and far less surge buying.

"Normality is creeping in to that party of the country, but London and the South East are absolutely horrendous."

Read more: One in four petrol stations still empty, after minister warns of another week of shortages

Read more: Boris sends in the army to transport fuel to petrol stations amid HGV driver shortage

Mr Madderson said people are "desperate" in these areas to get fuel to do normal every day things, such as taking children to school and getting to work.

Speaking to Andrew Castle, he said: "I live in Kent and when I was out yesterday the local social media was pinging away saying ‘just seen a tanker down the road on the A20, we think a tanker is coming in here'. And so, people really are desperate to get fuel to do their normal tasks.

"London and the South East seems to be really awful.

"I had one of my retailers from Bracknell ring me this morning, saying all six sites, including the two supermarkets are out of fuel."

Read more: Haulage industry has 'serious measure of blame' for HGV shortage, Iain Duncan Smith says

Mr Madderson explained that the wholesale price of petrol went up by 3 pence per litre in just four nights last week.

He said because there is no stock under ground any new stock that comes in is going to be at the new wholesale price.

He added that independent petrol pumps are "frustrated" as shop sales have almost disappeared as everyone is in the queue, and they don’t want to hold people up.

"They’ve had a double whammy of no fuel, no shop sales, no car washes. They are really, really frustrated."

The group said over two thirds of its petrol stations have both types of fuel, however 16 percent of garages are running dry.

It comes as chair of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden also acknowledged that fuel shortages remained a "major problem" in London and the South-East during the Tory conference on Sunday.

"Clearly there are significant challenges still, particularly in London and the South-East of England," he said.

"I know people's deep anger and frustration, as I live in that area and I know the challenges."

In a drastic bid to end the chaos that has overwhelmed pumps over the last week, soldiers will start delivering petrol to forecourts from Monday.

The Government said on Friday that just under 200 military tanker personnel - of which 100 are drivers - have finished their training and are ready to be deployed.

Read more: Fuel shortages remain a 'major problem' in London and South-East, Tory chair tells LBC

The Government has stressed that the problem is not down to there being no fuel – the shortages have instead come from a lack of drivers to transport it from refineries and terminals to petrol stations.

It has urged people not to panic buy and instead to purchase fuel as they usually would. It says this will see levels return closer to normal, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears for many.

Speaking during a visit to Leeds General Infirmary, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the situation on filling station forecourts was finally "stabilising" following the days of panic buying.

He added that the Government would keep the situation regarding temporary visas for lorry drivers under review. However, the haulage industry should not expect to rely on low-wage immigrant labour.

"Of course we keep everything under review but what we don't want to do is go back to a situation in which we basically allowed the road haulage industry to be sustained with a lot of low-wage immigration that meant that wages didn't go up and the quality of the job didn't go up," he said.

"The weird thing is now that people don't want to go into the road haulage industry, don't want to be lorry drivers, precisely because you have that mass immigration approach."

Read more: DVLA faces pressure to clear backlog of 54,000 HGV licences

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "Across the weekend over 200 military personnel will have been mobilised as part of Operation Escalin.

"While the situation is stabilising, our Armed Forces are there to fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move by supporting the industry to deliver fuel to forecourts."

In an announcement on Friday evening, the Government said 300 fuel tanker drivers would be able to come to the UK from overseas "immediately" under a bespoke temporary visa which will last until March.

Some 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be extended beyond the initially announced three months and will last from late October to the end of February.

A total of 5,500 poultry workers will also be allowed in to help keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas.

The Government has said these workers, who can arrive from late October, will be able to stay up to December 31 under the temporary visa scheme.

But the Government added the visas will not be a long-term solution and it wants employers to invest in the domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour.

It comes as opposition parties raised the prospect of a parliamentary recall to address wider labour shortages and supply chain disruption.

Sir Keir Starmer said the temporary visa scheme would not be up and running "for weeks", and added that the Prime Minister should, if necessary, recall Parliament to rush through legislation to ensure the shelves remain stocked in the run-up to Christmas.

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Boris Johnson "must immediately recall Parliament and convene cross-party talks to set out steps to effectively tackle the Brexit crisis".