Army personnel have started delivering fuel to petrol stations for the first time to tide over the ongoing supply crunch due to shortage of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers and panic buying.
About 200 military personnel, half of whom are tanker drivers, have taken to the road as part of Operation Escaline to deliver fuel to forecourts across the country. The government said on Friday that the army, which has been on standby since last week, is expected to “fill any critical vacancies and help the country move forward” before Christmas.
While the government believes fuel demand has stabilized across the UK, military personnel are concentrated in London and the south of England as the recovery rate has been “slightly slow”.
“We are working closely with industry to help fuel stocks grow and there are signs of improvement in average forecourt stock across the UK,” a government spokesman was quoted as saying by the Press Association (PA).
“Stocks in London and South England are recovering at slightly slower rates than in other parts of the UK, so we have begun deploying military personnel to these areas to augment supplies,” the spokesman said.
“More than half of those who have completed training to dispense fuel are being deployed to terminals serving London and the south-east of England, indicating that the sector will begin this first phase from Monday. Allotting drivers to the most affected areas in the country.”
The army deployment was announced after Sir Keir Starmer warned that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s failure to “get hold of” the HGV driver shortage was threatening to ruin the festive season.
The move was welcomed by the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent retailers. However, PRA President Brian Maderson said that while the use of the military would be a “great help”, it would have a “limited effect” in difficult areas.
“It’s not going to be the major panacea”, he said.
He said that while the north of England and Scotland has improved, fuel shortages remain a “really big problem” in London and the southeast. “If anything, it had gotten worse.” in an interview with sky NewsHe said a survey conducted by his organization on Saturday showed that one in five does not have fuel.
The government on Friday also announced a U-turn on its emergency visa scheme as it extended it by two months for about 5,000 foreign food transport drivers. The visa was supposed to expire on December 24, but has now been extended till the end of February.
Mr Johnson, who was attending the opening day of the Tory party convention in Manchester on Sunday, repeatedly refused to rule out a slowdown in the broader economy until Christmas, even as he argued that the crisis was “decreasing” and that the army was being deployed as a “precaution”.
The prime minister acknowledged that the country was going through a “period of adjustment” after Brexit, as it cut the supply of labor from the EU.
Additional reporting by the stars
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /