Nearly half of all independently owned petrol stations in the UK were still dry or out of one type of fuel on Thursday, as motorists continued to panic buy and soldiers stood by to drive tankers to help with the refuelling effort amid a lack of HGV drivers.
The Petrol Retailers Association said drivers were continuing to buy fuel faster than it could be restocked, despite the insistence from chief secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, that the situation was “back under control”.
The trade body, which represents 65% of the UK’s 8,380 forecourts, said 27% of its members were still reporting that they had run out of fuel, nearly a week after the first shortages were reported. A further 21% were out of at least one grade, such as diesel or unleaded petrol.
The PRA chief executive, Gordon Balmer, said motorists were subjecting staff at forecourts to unacceptable levels of abuse and violence.
The organisation’s chairman, Brian Madderson, said he expected soldiers to be driving tankers by the weekend. The army has been put on standby because of a lack of HGV drivers, an ongoing problem that has prompted warnings from retailers of a “nightmare” Christmas.
Industry sources said professional haulage companies were providing last-minute instruction to soldiers about the specific requirements of delivering petrol to commercial forecourts.
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The scarcity of fuel has reduced the number of vehicles on the road. Figures showed traffic volume down by six percentage points on Monday compared with the previous week.
Traffic was at its lowest for a non-bank holiday Monday since England’s pandemic restrictions were lifted in mid-July, according to the data from the Office for National Statistics.
One filling station company announced a pay rise for staff. EG Group had earlier announced a £30 limit on fuel purchases at its 400 filling stations, to ration supplies. On Thursday it said 10,000 UK employees would get a pay rise, citing their “heroic” efforts during the pandemic.
It said increased rates of pay would apply across all of EG’s petrol filling stations and food service brands in the UK, effective from 1 October. Staff aged 18 and above will earn at least £9.50 an hour, while more senior and experienced staff will be paid a minimum of £10 an hour.