Industry chiefs say the petrol pump chaos will last for at least another week as the Government was accused of mishandling the shortages crisis.
More petrol stations closed as the pumps ran dry while others were left gridlocked by panic-buying motorists.
The shortages have had a knock-on effect to key industries and sectors with police officers being forced to queue jump for fuel and paramedics facing delays.
The lack of HGV drivers is also causing as many as one in five supermarket deliveries to be late or cancelled.
Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the Government of a “lack of planning”, adding: “I’m astonished the Government, knowing the situation, is not acting today.”
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Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
And now hundreds of soldiers could be scrambled to help deliver fuel to petrol stations across the country as part of an emergency plan being considered by Boris Johnson, amid growing fears of a ‘winter of discontent’.
The Guardian reports that Boris Johnson will gather ministers to pore over “Operation Escalin” after BP admitted that a third of its petrol stations had run out of the main two grades of fuel. The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) fears that thousands of independents will run dry soon.
Tory plans to alleviate the HGV driver shortage by issuing 5,000 temporary Visas have been rubbished by both foreign HGV drivers and British unions.
And in another sign of the last minute desperation by the Government, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, said he was sending out SOS letters to one million HGV licence holders begging them to get back behind the wheel.
Mr Shapps also admitted it may take years for the driver shortages situation to be fully resolved.
Petrol Retailers Association chairman Brian Madderson told the Mirror: “We think it’s going to go on for at least a further week, maybe ten days.
“The problem we’ve got is there are a finite number of tankers that can carry fuel and a finite number of drivers.
“There will be some respite because the cars of panic buyers are full…but I can’t see a quick fix.
“It’s going to take a long while to get back to normal where all forecourts have the right amount of fuel.”
The UK currently has plenty of fuel at terminals and refineries but not enough skilled drivers to transport it to petrol stations.
Mr Madderson says 50-90 per cent of the UK’s 8,350 forecourts are currently dry, adding: “those that aren’t dry are partly dry and running out soon.”
Oil companies are said to be prioritising motorway service areas, leading to a 500% increase in demand at one station.
Mr Madderson added: “It’s been absolutely horrendous. We’ve heard about altercations, bad words, honking of horns.
“It’s just total frustration, which I share, but mine is directed more towards the Government.
“It is a complete omnishambles and I lay that directly at the door of Grant Shapps.”
On June 23 the Road Haulage Association wrote to PM Johnson warning of “critical supply chains failing” unless the HGV driver shortage was addressed.
But they say the call for temporary worker visas to be issued immediately was “ignored” by the Government.
RHA spokesman Paul Mummery explained: “Three months ago we warned the Prime Minister of the consequences of this.
“We needed help earlier and the Government delayed and delayed…they let us down.
“While we welcome this weekend’s U-turn it’s a case of ‘too little, too late’. It’s really frustrating.
“I would suggest the Government thought bringing in foreign drivers wouldn’t look good after Brexit.”
The fuel crisis began last week after comments from a BP exec at a Cabinet Office meeting were made public.
Transport Secretary Shapps yesterday (Sun) tried to shift the blame for the crisis by attributing the leak to “one of the road haulage associations”.
Other government sources specifically named RHA director Rod McKenzie as the man responsible.
But Mr McKenzie hit back saying: “The allegation against me is nonsense.”
Industry experts say Britain currently has a shortfall of around 100,000 HGV drivers from a pre-pandemic total of 600,000.
In August it emerged Waitrose was willing to pay £54,000 to LGV license holders with other truckers reportedly offered up to £70,000.
The shortage has been caused by a combination of Brexit – which saw at least 13,500 EU drivers leave – and Covid delays to license applications and tests.
The DVLA is currently processing a backlog of 40,000 HGV applications.
Earlier this month Shapps shrugged off calls to bring in foreign drivers, saying: “We do have to stand on our own two feet as the United Kingdom”.
But over the weekend the under-fire transport secretary changed his mind and offered 12-week visas to 5,000 EU truckers.
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However, the drivers who he hopes to attract say the Government’s offer is not tempting.
Imran Mustafa, 32, who lives in Barcelona, said: “I would move but not for three months.
“It’s not enough time as we don’t know the roads, the maps or how it all works.
“…French people, German people, Spanish people, they’re already earning a lot of money, so why would they move to the UK for three months only on a temporary visa?”
HGV driver Mehmet Ozalp, 28, from Turkey, recently relocated to live in Germany.
He added: “I would only move for at least six months and above.
“If you’re moving thousands of kilometres, it shouldn’t be just for three months.
“People who do their jobs well will not come. We have to think, ‘What will contribute to my life?”’
The EU is also battling a HGV driver shortage but pay and working conditions are said to be comparable or better than those in the UK.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, believes importing overseas labour represents a “backwards” step.
Instead he wants to see people living in British communities which have been “left behind” recruited on decent pay.
Shapps is also trying to tempt truckers out of retirement by sending begging letters to one million HGV license holders.
But anyone wanting to return to work would need to fund and complete a 35-hour CPC training course.
British Chamber of Commerce President Baroness McGregor-Smith has described the Government’s response as the “equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”.
The crisis is affecting all parts of the economy, increasing prices and reducing choice for consumers.
The Bank of England say transport delays have led to shortages of items including parts for the motoring industry and furniture.
Morrisons has warned of price hikes while Wetherspoons say some pubs have run out of certain beer brands.
Coca Cola and Heineken and are among the drinks producers who are also facing a shortage.
Patients have been warned that pharmacies are also seeing delays, affecting prescriptions.
South Central Ambulance Service has asked motorists to stop panic buying so its paramedics can refuel both during and after their shifts.
On Saturday night an ambulance was filmed crashing into a car locked in traffic outside a Shell station in Bromley, London.
Two police cars were also photographed jumping queues of traffic at a BP garage in Hackney, London.
AFP via Getty Images)
As reported in the Mirror on Saturday, the chaos has left many retailers facing a battle to save Christmas.
Andrew Opie, a director at the British Retail Consortium, believes 5,000 drivers will not be enough.
He said: “It will help but we have to be realistic, the numbers are too small really to make a big impact on the disruption we’re anticipating at Christmas.
“I think we’re gonna see less choice, less availability, possibly a shorter shelf life as well, which is really disappointing because this could have been averted.”
Poultry industry experts are predicting a “national shortage” of turkeys caused by a lack of labour following Brexit.
RHA spokesman Mummery added: “Clearly these problems will affect Christmas business.
“Firms are already struggling to build their stocks.
“I think we will see more of the same – less choice in the shops and reduced access to goods.”