UK petrol stations say lack of HGV drivers is disrupting fuel supplies

Three of the UK’s biggest operators of petrol stations have warned of fuel shortages at some forecourts across the country, with the severe lack of lorry drivers nationwide now disrupting fuel supplies.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty

BP said yesterday that up to 100 of its forecourts were short of at least one grade of fuel, with several forced to close entirely due to problems with supplies.

Esso said that a handful of its petrol stations operated alongside Tesco Express stores were affected, while some of the supermarket chain’s own-branded sites are also suffering outages.

Though Downing Street insisted there was “no shortage of fuel”, the developments will add to pressure on ministers already facing calls to take action to ease acute labour and supply chain shortages linked to Brexit and the pandemic – with businesses calling for a visa scheme to help meet demand for more workers on farms, in factories and in road haulage firms.

© Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty A BP petrol station in London. The company is prioritising fuel deliveries to sites it considers important, such as motorway services.

On Thursday the Bank of England also warned surging household energy bills would drive inflation above 4% this winter, sending the cost of living to its highest rate of growth for a decade.

Despite a slowdown in the economy since August, the Bank is now forecasting that the surge in wholesale gas and electricity prices is expected to keep inflation high until at least the middle of next year.

Related: UK recovery begins to falter amid shortage of workers and supplies

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister acknowledged there were issues across several industries, and that the government was working closely with business leaders over the course of this week to resolve the problems.

But he insisted there was no need for concern.

“It’s important to restate that there’s no shortage of fuel, so people should continue to buy it as usual. Fuel, as in food, we have a very resilient and robust supply chain. So, as I say, people should continue to shop for fuel as usual.”

Meetings between the government and food industry executives are expected to take place on Friday, with company bosses hoping for action on driver shortages. One Tory MP from a red wall seat urged the government to take dramatic steps, including drafting in the military to keep the supply of goods flowing and cutting taxes on fuel to see the country through the winter.

Details of the disruption to petrol supplies emerged after a meeting between the government and executives from several companies convened to brief ministers about the severity of Britain’s supply chain crisis, including BP, McDonalds and Amazon.

A BP spokesperson apologised for any inconvenience, adding: “We are experiencing fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades.”

It is understood that BP’s head of UK retail, Hanna Hofer, told ministers it was important for the government to understand the “urgency of the situation”, which she described as “bad, very bad”, in comments first reported by ITV News.

She said the oil giant had “two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations” and the level was “declining rapidly”.

Related: HGV driver shortage: UK firms embark on the long road to plug the gap

BP’s petrol delivery problems relate to shortages of staff at Hoyer, its transport contractor, which is struggling to find staff to take fuel tankers from refineries and depots to the company’s network of 1,200 filling stations across the UK. About 400 drivers at Hoyer are understood to operate on the BP contract, with a handful of shortages enough to cause disruption to supplies.

Tesco is believed to be experiencing limited temporary shortages in a small number of areas across its 500 filling stations. “We have good availability of fuel, with deliveries arriving at our petrol filling stations across the UK every day,” a spokeswoman said. However, a number of service stations operated by Esso with a Tesco Express store on site have also been affected, out of a network of about 200.

A spokesman for Esso said: “We are working closely with all parties in our distribution network to optimise supplies and minimise any inconvenience to customers. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience.”

The prospect of shortages at forecourts across Britain will reignite memories of the fuel blockade in autumn 2000, when truckers and farmers protesting over the high cost of fuel prevented deliveries from leaving refineries.

Government plans, codenamed Operation Escalin, had been made ahead of Brexit to draft in 1,600 soldiers to drive 80 military fuel tankers to keep petrol and diesel flowing to forecourt pumps in the event of no deal. However, government sources stressed there was no current need for the military to step in to meet driver shortages.

Minutes released on Thursday from the Bank of England’s interest rate setting meeting warned chronic shortages of workers and supplies were weighing on Britain’s economic recovery from lockdown, at a time when the cost of living is rising at the fastest rate in nearly a decade.

Voting unanimously to keep interest rates at the historic low of 0.1%, the Bank’s monetary policy committee warned household energy bills would drive inflation above 4% this winter, with persistent pressure expected to last until the middle of next year.

It said Ofgem’s update of the energy price cap from April next year, which is likely to put further pressure on household energy bills, risked inflation sticking above 4% until the second quarter of 2022. Inflation is then expected to gradually fall back towards the 2% target rate set by the government.

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