A cabinet minister has dismissed reports that the government was planning to draft in the military to ease Britain’s worsening fuel supply crisis.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holding an emergency meeting of ministers on Monday to discuss reportedly putting soldiers on notice to drive tankers to petrol stations to replenish supplies.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents most stations across the country, warned that 50 to 90 percent of member sites had dried up.
But George Eustice said there are “no plans at the moment” to call in the military.
How did we get to this point and what are the problems?
Government ministers are emphasizing that petrol is not running out in the country and there is sufficient supply.
Instead, the problem is that there are not enough Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers to deliver petrol to stations to meet consumer demand.
These driver shortages, which have been a problem for some time, have been exacerbated by Brexit and the COVID pandemic.
Reports of some stations running low on supplies have prompted people to shop in panic, resulting in further shortages in supplies and pictures of long queues in the forecourt as drivers try to stock up.
The government says there will be enough fuel to move around if people stop panic buying.
Brexit has contributed to the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK, although it is not the only factor.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 37,000 EU drivers in the UK in 2019; This number is now around 24,500.
Other countries including Germany are facing problems but the UK is the worst affected country.
After the UK left the EU, Eastern European HGV drivers are struggling to get clearance to work here.
Industry leaders say Britain’s hostile post-Brexit environment and increased bureaucracy are preventing workers from coming to the UK.
What needs to be done to end the crisis and how long is it likely to last?
In short, more HGV drivers need to be hired to help get fuel supplies – and reductions in other sectors of the economy – back to normal levels.
Over the weekend the government announced a temporary visa scheme to make it easier for foreign lorry drivers to come to the UK.
Up to 5,000 visas will be issued to workers for three months until Christmas Eve.
Letters have also been sent to retired drivers, encouraging them to go back to work to bridge the gap.
Some 5,500 poultry workers will also be offered visas amid fears of a turkey shortage at Christmas.
Ministers have also drawn up plans to train 4,000 new HGV drivers in the UK, although the process could take up to 12 weeks.
But Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said the measures were not enough as he hit out at the government’s “total lack of planning”.
Industry leaders have also warned that granting visas and training 4,000 new drivers will not be enough to end the crisis.
Reports suggested that the government was considering drafting in the military to ease the crisis.
The ministers are said to have been considering whether to put soldiers on notice to take the tankers to the forecourt.
The plan has since been rejected by the Environment Secretary, George Eustice.
Brian Maderson of the PRA warned that even if troops were dispatched, they did not have the necessary skills and would not be prepared in time to fix an immediate crisis.
“Training is going on in the background for military personnel,” he told BBC Radio 4. Today program.
“But this is probably limited to transporting the tanker by clear truck from point A to point B. One of the difficulties is loading, and tanker drivers currently load their tanks on gantry at terminals, and then most deliveries. Providing for the courtyard.”
He continued: “This is a skilled job and we will work with the government and industry to see how we can take this forward.”
The government is hoping that the immediate crisis will subside as people will start running out of storage to have supplies of petrol.
As part of a longer-term strategy, in addition to training more drivers, Mr Johnson is calling on firms to raise wages to make lorry driving more attractive.
Paul Mumri of the Road Haulage Association told Granthshala The current crisis comes as “no surprise”.
He says the RHA has been warning the government “for years about the impact of driver shortages on the supply chain.”
He said: “For the past few months we have been working hard on them to work with our industry to tide over the crisis. We welcome plans for temporary visas for foreign truckers to drive UK lorries, but this will only scratch the surface in the short term – we don’t know how effective it will be yet.
“We also need to include HGV drivers in the government shortfall business list to help firms bridge some of the gap. In the long run we need more support around apprenticeships and training to get the next generation of young British truck drivers behind the wheel.
Elisabeth de Jong, Policy Director at Logistics UK Granthshala The introduction of temporary visas by the government is welcomed.
But the question is when will the crisis end.
“How quickly the driver shortage can be resolved depends on how quickly new testing capacity becomes available, how many drivers the Visa scheme attracts and how quickly additional training can be provided,” Ms. De Jong said.
“We are working with the government to make sure these are delivered at speed.”
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /