Long queues at UK petrol stations as fuel shortage persists
An acute trucker shortage that triggered panic buying at the pumps continued on Tuesday, which has resulted in British military personnel in fatigues delivering fuel, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied the world’s fifth largest economy was heading into crisis.
Long lines were observed across the streets of UK as drivers struggle to fill up their cars, causing widespread traffic misery. The government is blaming the public, urging people not to panic.
Britain’s supply chains for everything from pork, petrol and poultry to medicines and milk have been strained to breaking point by shortages of labour in the wake of the Brexit and Covid-19 crises.
Panic buying of fuel amid the shortage of truckers triggered chaotic scenes across major cities last week with queues of drivers stacked up. Some have had fist fights over the pumps while others hoarded fuel in old water bottles.
In recent months, many companies have reported shortages, including fast-food chains KFC, McDonald’s and Nando’s. Supermarket shelves have also run dry. At first, the shortages drew a shrug. An inconvenience for some, but hardly the stuff to shake an economy or a government. But recent news from oil giants BP and ExxonMobil that they were having to close some gas stations as a result of a truck driver shortage changed that.
The British government insists there is not. That’s true, but the process of keeping the country’s gas stations flowing involves the seamless interaction of a number of activities. So when one or more aspects of the process are out of kilter, the whole system can grind to a halt. Replenishing stocks becomes even more difficult if the driver shortage remains and people persist in their changed routines.
The pro-Brexit Conservative government is keen to downplay talk that the truck driver shortage is a result of Britain’s departure from the European Union. However, when the country left the economic orbit of the EU at the start of this year, one of the bloc’s main tenets ceased to apply — the freedom of people to move within the EU to find work. With Brexit, many tens of thousands of drivers left the UK to go back to their homes in the EU, further pressuring an industry already facing long-term staffing issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the staffing issues, prompting thousands of EU drivers to leave the U.K. The series of lockdown restrictions also led to difficulties in training and testing new home-grown drivers to replace those who left.
In addition, the pandemic accelerated the number of British drivers, many of whom were nearing retirement age, calling it a day.
UK PM Boris Johnson appeared on Tuesday to dial down blaming the public, acknowledging how “frustrating and infuriating” it must be to worry about shortages of fuel. He said the situation is “starting to improve” as supplies return and urged people to “go about their business in a normal way.”
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