Brian Madderson, president of the Petrol Retailers Association, a trade body, said a survey of members on Sunday found that 50 to 85 percent of all independent gas stations were now dry, excluding forecourt courts. highway and some supermarket sites that have been prioritized by oil. companies.
Madderson said what had been a “manageable problem” of localized shortages at a small number of retail locations last week quickly escalated after media reporting on supply issues sparked panic buying by motorists, with some members saying demand rose “500% above normal” on Saturday, quickly draining fuel tanks from the forecourt.
The UK has around 8,000 service stations and the majority are run by independent retailers, some of which operate franchises using the brands of major oil companies.
Madderson told the Financial Times that while the short-term problem was “panic buying”, the root cause was “a government dragging its feet on the issue of truck drivers on the ground.”
Ministers bowed to business pressure on Saturday and announced they would issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign heavy-duty drivers to help tackle major labor shortages in the logistics sector.
The government’s move came after panic buying followed BP which said last week that as many as 100 service stations had been disrupted and several forecourts closed due to a shortage of tanker drivers.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, urged people on Sunday to be “sensitive” and said there was plenty of fuel in Britain’s six refineries and 47 storage facilities.
“The most important thing is that people actually go on as they normally would and fill their cars up as they normally would, so you won’t have any queues and you won’t have any queues either. shortage at the pump, ”he told Sky News.
But government appeals to the public for restraint were not enough to stop the scramble to gas stations from motorists frightened by warnings that oil companies may have to restrict deliveries due to a shortage of drivers. heavyweight.
Long queues were visible at many gas stations on weekends. BP, which operates one of the UK’s largest fuel networks, including numerous motorway sites, said on Sunday it estimated that 30% of its branded service stations “currently have none of the main fuel qualities ”.
BP and Royal Dutch Shell, which also operates an extensive fuel network, have both said they are working hard to replenish supplies.
But industry insiders have said there is not much energy companies can deal with panic buying beyond waiting for it to end.
Shell said it was restocking sites that ran out “quickly, usually within 24 hours.”
BP said, “We continue to work hard with our carrier supplier, Hoyer, to optimize fuel delivery and minimize the level of disruption. “
The dry gas station scenes have increased pressure on the government, which is also grappling with the collapse of energy providers following a spike in wholesale gas and electricity prices.
Households are bracing for much higher energy bills, one of the many factors that have triggered warnings of a cost of living crisis this winter.
Madderson praised the government’s plans to ease visa requirements for foreign workers, but said the biggest issues were with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, a branch of the Department of Transportation, where there was a backlog important to truck driver applicants looking to start training.
“Fixing the DVLA is a number one priority,” Madderson said.
Industries that rely heavily on fuel supplies have said there are growing fears about what will happen in the coming days.
Steve Wright, president of the Licensed Private Hire Car Association, a trade body, said he had asked the transportation department to grant emergency service status to registered vehicles, which would give them priority access to fuel. .
He added that fuel shortages would have a “catastrophic effect” as private rental vehicles were widely used to transport inpatients and students with disabilities.
Additional reports by Nic Fildes and Jim Pickard