It is important to stress that there is plenty of fuel in the refineries and in storage across the country. Over recent days, a significant spike in demand has caused temporary shortages at some petrol stations. Ministers are monitoring this situation extremely closely, but – given that overall fuel supplies within the country are fine – the best way to resolve this situation will be for people to only buy petrol when they need it, as they normally would.
The increased demand over recent days has been largely as a result of selective briefing of the media, which has caused unnecessary panic buying. Ministers are working closely with the industry to manage this short-term demand, including relaxing competition laws on a temporary basis to allow industry to prioritise the delivery of fuel to parts of the country most in need.
I am also aware that there are longer-term challenges within the wider HGV sector which ministers are working hard to tackle. Indeed, the Government announced a package of measures to tackle this shortage and ease pressure on industry through boosting skills, increasing testing availability and easing competition law. For example, £10 million will be invested to create new skills bootcamps and train up to 3,000 HGV drivers – with an additional 1,000 to be trained through local courses. The Government are also making available 5,000 visas for HGV drivers until the end of March, to provide short-term relief for the haulage industry.
These visas reflect the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves this year. The pandemic meant that all HGV driver testing had to be shut down for months on end, which has created a bottleneck in the system. This temporary visa measure will give the industry time to get back on its feet, but ministers have been clear that the haulage companies must now invest in the British workforce – increasing pay and improving conditions – so that we have resilient, domestic labour market that does not require overseas workers in the long term.
Furthermore, I understand that there has been an increase in people stockpiling fuel, which is perpetuating current supply issues, and reiterate that drivers should only purchase what they need, as they normally would.
Whilst it is legal to store up to 30 litres of petrol in a maximum of two suitable containers in a vehicle (any more than that must be reported to the Petroleum Enforcement Authority), the National Fire Chiefs Council urges the public not to store fuel, as it can be incredibly dangerous.
Drivers should also be mindful that petrol can expire and has a fairly short shelf life. Those storing petrol in jerrycans must follow expert advice to ensure that it is stored correctly and safely.
Moreover, I appreciate the concerns of critical workers who are struggling to get fuel whilst panic buying continues.
The Government has already introduced steps to help alleviate the crisis. While there is currently no plan to introduce further measures, the Government will not hesitate to do so should this be necessary. Indeed, the National Emergency Plan for Fuel, published by the Government in January 2020, sets out steps that could be taken in a crisis scenario, which include granting key workers priority access.
I am encouraged by news from the Petrol Retailers Association that problems at the pumps already appear to be easing, and hope that they will continue to alleviate without the need for further measures.
Finally, as the Transport Secretary made clear, Government will do whatever is necessary to allow for the continued flow of petrol and other goods. That is why military personnel were put on standby, and, since Monday 4th October, have been deployed across London and the South East; areas where stocks have been recovering at a slower rate than the rest of the country. The Government continues to be in contact with the industry to discuss next steps, and to ensure that fuel supplies return to normal as quickly as possible.