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British govt insists petrol panic ending

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-09-27 09:10
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Motorists wait to fill up at a gas station in West London on Sunday in a scene repeated all over the UK. The nation's transport secretary, Grant Shapps, insisted a truck drivers' association had sparked the panic. [ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP]

Transport minister claims there is no shortage of fuel, reaction unfounded

After a weekend of petrol and diesel panic-buying in the United Kingdom that led to traffic gridlock around gas stations, the British government insisted on Sunday it had a grip on the situation and that normality would soon return.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show the long line-ups that suddenly appeared on Friday and that continued all weekend were an overreaction to news reports about a shortage of drivers qualified to operate heavy goods vehicles, or HGVs, and about possible resulting supply-chain disruption to fuel deliveries.

Insisting the reaction was out of proportion, he said it was the panic itself that caused the mayhem on the forecourt and gas stations to run dry.

"There is no shortage of fuel," he insisted.

Shapps said on Sky News' Trevor Phillips On Sunday drivers should only fill up when they need to and should not stockpile fuel.

"I think the important thing to know is that, within the country, at the six refineries and 47 storage facilities, there is plenty of fuel, there is no shortage of fuel within the country," Shapps said. "So, the most important thing is, actually, that if people carry on as they normally would and fill up their cars when they normally would, then you won't have queues and you won't have shortages at pump either."

Metro newspaper said the government has also said it will issue 5,000 additional three-month work visas to people from European Union countries qualified to drive HGV vehicles, so they can work in the UK.

Government departments will send 1 million letters to qualified HGV drivers in the UK who have left the profession, to urge them to consider getting back behind the wheel.

Additionally, London has announced it will ramp up HGV testing, so new drivers can enter the profession after proficiency tests were suspended for many months because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The government said it is also looking for ways to ensure HGV drivers are paid more, so the profession attracts more recruits.

Shapps laid the blame for the crisis firmly at the feet of a trade association that he said created panic by claiming the HGV driver shortage was worse than it was.

While he did not name the trade association, The Mail on Sunday newspaper said he was referring to the Road Haulage Association.

Metro quoted Shapps as saying: "We need to ensure that people are reassured now that this rather manufactured situation has been created, because there's enough petrol in the country."

But Road Haulage Association spokesman Rod Mackenzie said on Radio 4's Broadcasting House it was "absolute nonsense" to blame the organization for the crisis.

And the leader of the UK's main opposition party, the Labour Party's Keir Starmer, said the government should not be blaming the mayhem on anyone other than ministers.

"For a long time, we have known there is a problem with HGV drivers that's been there for years but we knew in particular that, when we exited the EU, there would be a need for a backup plan to deal with the situation and there has been no plan from the government," the BBC quoted Starmer as saying.

Industry figures have said the UK needs around 100,000 additional HGV drivers in the long term; a fact that prompted the British Chambers of Commerce to say the granting of 5,000 short-term visas to HGV drivers from the EU "barely scratches the surface".

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