This was the queue outside the BP petrol station in Fleetwood Road North, Thornton, today after the fuel giant was forced to close down a handful of its forecourts elsewhere.
BP said yesterday it had closed several forecourts due to a lack of available fuel after the lorry driver shortage hit deliveries, while a number of Tesco refilling stations have also been impacted according to Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs the sites.
Cars were pictured waiting to get onto the forecourt, where a worker stood with a handwritten cardboard sign saying: “No diesel”.
It comes amid reports of panic buying, even after the AA said most forecourts are working as they should – and as the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said motorists should “carry on as normal”.
Motorists queuing outside BP in Fleetwood Road North, Thornton, on Friday, September 24, 2021 (Picture: Dan Martino for The Gazette)
There was no suggestion any of those waiting for fuel in Thornton were panic buying, however.
“There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems,” said AA president Edmund King.
“Fridays and the weekend always tend to be busier on forecourts as drivers either combine filling up with shopping runs, prepare for weekend trips or refuel for the start of the new working week.
“Drivers should not fill up outside their normal routines because, even if the occasional petrol station is temporarily closed, others just down the road will be open.
A worker at BP in Fleetwood Road North, Thornton, holds a sign saying ‘No diesel’ on Friday, September 24, 2021 (Picture: Dan Martino for The Gazette)
“It is now clear that there have been occasional delays over recent weeks that have been managed with hardly anyone noticing. This was a manageable problem.”
Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said the UK Government’s handling of Brexit was partly to blame for adding extra pressure on the HGV sector.
The Opposition MP said: “There are shortages of HGV drivers in other countries.
“I have to say, however, that there have been big failures in planning for this situation and the additional red tape that has been created, which was not inevitable, it was not an inevitable result of Brexit in many cases, but that hasn’t been tackled by Government.
“I talk to advanced manufacturers in my patch for example, and they tell me that now they have got to fill in dozens of pages of paperwork and that is quite a tall order for a HGV driver if they have got to be dealing with all of that, as well as getting goods from one place to another.
“So undoubtedly the Government’s method of implementing Brexit has had an impact overall on the system, but there are other factors that are in play here.
“And I think their failure to consider whether they need to ask that Migration Advisory Committee about a different approach to shortage occupations – I really do think they should be engaging with business on this and listening to them.”
Mr Shapps said there were “systemic” problems within the haulage sector that needed addressing and that there was a need to make it a “more attractive industry”.
He said: “Traditionally, this has been – and these are extraordinary figures – a 99 per cent white male profession, average age 55, conditions not great, truck stops not great.
“And the salaries have been supressed over many years by people coming in and driving and being prepared to do that at lower wages.
“So we need to resolve the systemic problems as well and that’s why, as I say, we are doing everything we possible can to open up the capacity and bring more people in.”
He added: “We need to make this a more attractive industry to go into and the solution to that is to have those slightly higher wages and better conditions at truck stops and the like as well.”
Mr Shapps said the wage base for hauliers had been held down by “importing cheap European, often eastern European, labour, undercutting the domestic market and creating more long-term problems”.
But the Transport Secretary said he was “ruling nothing out” in order to fix the haulier shortage but added that he was wary about importing cheap foreign labour.
“We’ve already doubled the spaces (for testing) and we’ve started to see people come into the sector to alleviate this problem, and what I don’t want to do is undermine that in any way as we bring people in, attracted by higher salaries and wages,” he said.
Asked whether he would be prepared to relax the rules on European drivers being able to work in the UK, Mr Shapps said: “I will do whatever is required, if that would help.
“What I don’t want to do, and I’ve been hinting at this, is undercut with, as has happened before, cheaper European drivers and then find our drivers drop out because they are being undercut.
“That doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates a new problem.”
Asked whether the military could be drafted in to drive HGVs, the Cabinet minister replied: “I certainly won’t rule anything out at all, we will look at all the various contingency measures.”
BP had to close only five of its petrol forecourts across the country yesterday due a lack of delivery drivers, according to the Transport Secretary.
Asked how many petrol forecourts were impacted this morning, he said: “I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that at 7am in the morning.
“As of last night, five petrol stations on the BP network out of twelve or thirteen-hundred were affected.
“I’m meeting this morning with Tesco and I’m sure they’ll give me the update for themselves.
“None of the other retailers said they had any closures.”
He added: “The others – Asda, Morrisons and other supermarkets – are saying they have no problems, as have other petrol companies.”
Mr Shapps said a lot of European lorry drivers, who have settled and and pre-settled status, are overseas and the Government was trying to “entice” them back to the UK.
He said: “Critically, they’ve already got the rights to come here and do it.
“Ironically, of course, every time you say, ‘let’s open it up to Europeans, eastern Europeans’ and you undercut the marketplace, this is how we’ve ended up with this systemic long-term problem, because salaries have been reduced to a point where people are saying ‘Well, that job’s not for me’. Part of it is this conditions.”
Questioned if he would have a standby plan to deploy army drivers to deliver fuel, he responded: “Anything that’s reasonable, and probably that’s not the solution in terms of sheer numbers. We’re not in a position where, previously, drivers have just stopped driving.
“We will always look at all the different things which are required.”