Amid ugly scenes at filling stations, the boss of a major UK haulier said to describe Boris Johnson’s plan as a three-month scheme was ‘disingenuous’ as temporary visas for EU lorry drivers are due to expire on Christmas Eve
An ambulance joins a snaking queue for fuel amid claims we face a six-week wait for the thousands of EU lorry drivers needed to help avert Christmas shortages.
As long lines continued outside filling stations across the country yesterday there were more ugly scenes of fighting between frustrated drivers
Agroup of men were filmed brawling outside a petrol station in Epping, Essex, while in Ashford, Kent, an ambulance was pictured waiting in line for petrol.
Reports claimed it could be the middle of November before the 5,000 truckers being offered three-month work visas hit our roads.
The time taken to set up the scheme, to select firms to process applications and for hauliers to recruit drivers could stop them getting on our roads any sooner, it was claimed.
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The temporary visas are due to expire on Christmas Eve – leading the boss of a major UK haulier to tell The Grocer trade magazine: “To call it a three-month scheme is disingenuous.”
It is feared the driver shortage – estimated at 100,000 – could hit supplies of everything from food to toys in the run-up to Christmas.
A fleet of Government lorries took to the roads yesterday to help tackle the fuel crisis.
The 80 road tankers, stationed at Fenstanton, Cambs, and Bradford, West Yorks, are kept in a state of readiness to be deployed at 24 hours’ notice.
Martyn Wheatley / i-Images)
Confirming the Reserve Tanker Fleet had been deployed, Business Secretary Kwarsi Kwarteng said: “The trucks are driven by civilians and will provide additional logistical capacity to the fuel industry.”
Insisting the crisis was easing, he added: “We are now seeing signs that the situation at the pumps has begun to improve with more stations getting more fuel.”
A Government spokesman said: “We’ve taken immediate action to increase the supply of HGV drivers, streamlining the testing process, enabling fuel companies to work together and introducing short term visas.
“This is a global problem and we have been working closely with industry for months to understand how we can boost recruitment.”
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The message was echoed by industry giants including Shell, BP and Esso.
In a joint statement, they said: “While there has always been plenty of fuel at our refineries and terminals, we are also now seeing signs that the situation at the pumps has begun to improve.
“We remain confident that the situation will stabilise further in the coming days and encourage everyone to fill up as they normally would to help forecourts return to normal.”
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents two-thirds of UK filling stations, also said the situation was easing.
Boss Gordon Balmer said: “Only 27% of PRA members have reported being out of fuel today.”
However, A decision to put 150 military drivers on standby has been formally approved, meaning they can begin training in case they are required.
A Government source said: “They’re still on standby but can now start training now it’s approved.”
They could be deployed “in the coming days” if needed, sources said.
Meanwhile, the Tory peer boss of fashion giant Next criticised the Government for the lorry driver crisis.
Brexit-backing Lord Wolfson claimed the lack of truckers was “foreseen and widely predicted for many months”.
He said: “They could have granted more visas. The fact is that the visas were only granted when petrol queues formed.
“The system doesn’t respond fast enough. We need it to start looking forward.”
At Labour’s conference in Brighton, the party leader mocked the Prime Minister’s “levelling-up” slogan, which he has placed at the centre of his premiership.
Mr Starmer told activists: “Level up? You can’t even fill up.”
He added: “This Government can’t keep the fuel flowing, it can’t keep the shelves stocked.”
Drivers are being warned fuel prices could reach record levels, even if the current crisis ends.
The RAC said average prices may hit 143p per litre for petrol and 145p per litre for diesel in the next few weeks – up from 135p and 138p respectively now.
The highest average price for petrol is 142p per litre recorded in April 2012.
Simon Williams of the RAC said: “The price drivers can expect to pay at the pumps in the coming weeks is being driven by what’s happening with the cost of oil, not by the recent delivery issues that have affected some UK forecourts.”