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Industry Leaders Doubt Government's 'Smoke And Mirrors' Army Plan Will Curb Fuel Crisis

3 min read

The government's move to put the army on standby amid ongoing fuel shortages has been met with doubt from industry leaders, with one senior figure describing it as "PR" and "smoke and mirrors".

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) last night said up to 150 soldiers would be ready to drive tankers to petrol stations nationwide if the situation does not improve in the coming days.

But industry figures who PoliticsHome spoke to on Tuesday said deploying soldiers to drive tankers would have little impact as 150 troops would be a small addition to the current pool of drivers.

One said it was an attempt by the government to look like it was in control amid criticism that it didn't have a grip of the situation.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng last night described the plan as a "sensible, precautionary step," while Boris Johnson today said it was part of government efforts to “make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through to Christmas and beyond.”

Ministers have been under huge pressure to act after fuel shortages which started last week worsened significantly over the weekend, with mass panic buying leading to petrol stations around the country running out of fuel. 

There have been reports of fights breaking out at petrol stations and desparate drivers tailgating tankers on the motorway in an attempt to find petrols stations with supplies.

The initial shortages, which the government and industry said were manageable and not a cause for panic, were the result of an ongoing shortage of lorry drivers in the UK, exacerbated by Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves yesterday said the government had been "asleep at the wheel" and "utterly complacent" in its handling of the shortages and crisis facing supply chains.

There is growing hope that further measures will not be necessary, with the industry and government officials reporting signs of demand for fuel starting to return to normal.

Yesterday ten fuel suppliers including BP and Shell released a joint statement said they expected demand to return to normal levels "in the coming days" as "many cars are now holding more fuel."

"We would encourage everyone to buy fuel as they usually would," they said.

Today Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) believed there were early signs the crisis could be in retreat. 
“Fuel stocks remain normal at refineries and terminals, although deliveries have been reduced due to the shortage of HGV drivers," Balmer said. 
“We have conducted a survey of our members this morning and only 37% of forecourts have reported being out of fuel today. With regular restocks taking place, this percentage is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours."

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