Petrol station panic: Who would be on the key worker fuel priority list?

28 September 2021, 16:22 | Updated: 28 September 2021, 16:24

Key workers could be given priority for fuel if the crisis continues.
Key workers could be given priority for fuel if the crisis continues. Picture: Alamy

By Joe Cook

The chaos at petrol stations has led to calls for key workers to be given priority access to fuel, as hundreds of forecourts are closed amid a panic buying frenzy.

The crisis is facing "tentative signs" of easing, according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

But amidst long waits and even armed fights in the queues for petrol, one GP has told LBC they have even resorted to sleeping at work to keep their surgery open.

With the upheaval entering its fifth day and suggestions the supply chain disruption could continue for weeks, support for key workers to jump the queue to keep the country running is growing.

So where are these demands coming from? What powers does the government have to give key workers priority fuel access? And who is designated as a key worker?

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Where are the demands for key worker priority coming from?

The British Medical Association on Monday warned "there is a real risk that NHS staff won't be able to do their jobs,” with health workers unable to get enough fuel to travel to work or outpatient appointments.

The union Unison has called on ministers to use emergency powers to "designate fuel stations for the sole use of key workers", saying: "Essential staff must be able to get to their jobs so they can continue to provide the services so many rely upon.

"Ambulance crews, nurses, care workers, teaching assistants, police staff and other key workers mustn't be left stranded or forced to queue for hours simply to get to a pump."

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There has also been political support for the move, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan saying 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."

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What has the government said about priority for key workers?

The government appears to be reluctant to introduce a key worker priority scheme, with ministers instead saying it will be down to individual petrol stations to decide on whether they give priority to staff from certain sectors.

Speaking on Monday evening, Environment Secretary George Eustice said prioritising certain people "overcomplicates things".

Instead the army has been put on standby, with up to 150 military tanker drivers preparing to ship fuel from refineries to local filling stations.

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Which key workers could get priority fuel access?

Despite the apparent reluctance, the government does have the ability to implement a “Designated Filling Station scheme” to give “emergency and critical service vehicles” priority to some fuel stations.

The measures are part of the National Emergency Plan for Fuel, which says the key worker measures will “only be activated in the event of a severe national fuel supply shortage”.

However, it is unclear if this would include key workers' private cars. Already some forecourts have been giving priority access to ambulances and lorry drivers.

Read more: How long could it take to fix the UK fuel crisis?

If private cars were included, it is likely the government would use the same list of key workers as outlined during the pandemic.

The government's list of key workers includes:

  • NHS and social care workers
  • Workers for key public services including those essential to running the justice system and charities delivering key frontline services and journalists
  • Education and childcare workers
  • Frontline local and national government workers
  • Workers involved in food production and distribution
  • Public safety and national security staff, including police and fire services
  • Transport and Border Force workers
  • Utilities, communication and financial services
  • Funeral industry workers

During the 2000 fuel crisis, caused by protests over fuel taxes, Tony Blair's government introduced key worker fuel priority using a similar list.