Army tanker drivers are to start delivering fuel to petrol stations from Monday in an emergency government move prompted by the continuing crisis at the pumps.
Senior ministers have been alarmed at how slowly the fuel supply disruption is improving, with motorists still forced to queue for hours for fuel after more than a week of forecourt chaos.
Almost 200 soldiers – including 100 drivers – have been training with haulage firms this week, learning how to fill up tankers and petrol pumps, and the first army deliveries will be made early on Monday morning.
Announcing the move, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Across the weekend over 200 military personnel will have been mobilised as part of Operation Escalin.
“While the situation is stabilising, our armed forces are there to fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move by supporting the industry to deliver fuel to forecourts.”
At the same time, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay, who is in charge of the government’s response to the fuel crisis, appealed to motorists to stop panic buying at the pumps
“The government has taken decisive action to tackle the short-term disruption to our supply chains, and in particular the flow of fuel to forecourts,” he said.”We are now seeing the impact of these interventions with more fuel being delivered to forecourts than sold and, if people continue to revert to their normal buying patterns, we will see smaller queues and prevent petrol stations closing.”
But the decision to send in the army came as Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, issued a gloomy warning that shortages of goods could last until Christmas.
“These shortages are very real,” Mr Sunak said in a Daily Mail interview. “We’re seeing real disruption in supply chains in different sectors, not just here but around the world.”
In a further step to manage these pressures in the short term, the government is introducing a scheme allowing fuel tanker drivers and food haulage truckers to work in the UK immediately on a temporary basis.
Under these plans:
• 300 fuel drivers will be able to arrive immediately, subject to immigration checks, and stay to work until the end of March 2022
• 4,700 food haulage drivers who will arrive from late October and leave by 28 February 2022
• 5,500 poultry workers who will arrive from late October and be able stay up to 31 December 2021
The government says these temporary, time-limited visa measures, do not detract from a commitment to upskill and increase the wages of domestic labour, but are in recognition of the extraordinary set of circumstances affecting the stability of the UK supply chain.
Ministers say they want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on overseas labour to build a high-wage, high-skill economy.
In addition to short-term fixes, the government says it is also working with industry to find long-term solutions to the shortage of HGV drivers through improved testing and hiring, with better pay, working conditions and diversity.
To help with recruitment, the government also says it is collaborating with freight associations to drive up standards of lorry parking facilities, helping to make the HGV industry more attractive for prospective drivers and supporting the wellbeing of those currently working as lorry drivers.
Other moves include an immediate increase in HGV testing and new skills boot camps to train up to 4,000 more people to become HGV drivers. sky