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Petrol shortage: customers still panic-buying, says fuel retail boss

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Customers are still panic-buying petrol across the country with filling stations emptied within hours, the chair of the Petrol Retailers Association has said, as a Conservative MP urged the army to start deliveries to restore public confidence.

The PRA’s chair, Brian Madderson, said members were worried about putting a £30 cap on purchases because of the risk of people confronting staff and said prioritising key workers for fuel would be unworkable.

“As soon as a tanker arrives at a filling station, people on social media are advising that a tanker has arrived and then it is like bees to a honey pot. Everyone flocks there and … within a few hours it is out again,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Madderson said his members would not be placing limits on buying. “It is confrontational, we don’t want to put our staff at risk with confronting their customers, so that has got some merits, but also a lot of demerits.”

He also said he did not condone profiteering and called on members to think twice about putting up their prices.

“The one thing we do not condone is profiteering in situations like this,” he said. “Most of our members, the independents, have a regular customer base and if they offend their customer base they don’t deserve to have them when this crisis is over,” he said. “People have got long memories and I would urge anybody who thinks about trying to make a fast buck to think again because it just isn’t right.”

No 10 said army drivers would be ready to help deliver petrol and diesel on a short-term basis, but stopped short of an immediate deployment, even though some essential workers have not been able to carry out their jobs without fuel.

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Tobias Ellwood, the chair of parliament’s defence select committee, has said the army should be mobilised, not just put on standby, to “regain public confidence” and halt panic-buying.

“The country wants to see the government is in command and it has a clear cross-Whitehall plan,” he told Sky News. “We have gone from 1% fuel pump shortages to 90% so altering people’s buying behaviour to prevent the panic buying and going back to previous purchasing patterns requires regaining the confidence of the nation.

“I believe the army should not just be put on standby but in fact mobilised, be seen to be used. That will help ease the pressure on shortages of course, it will return public confidence, and then on top of that there is the bigger issue about articulating a clear strategy to alleviate the chronic shortage of lorry drivers.”

The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said the failure stemmed from government inaction, rather than blaming the public.

He said the HGV driver shortage was a “catastrophic failure of leadership” and said he had warned the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, about the impending disaster.

“We find ourselves in this position because of a complete failure of the government to lead and to plan ahead,” he said. “I and other shadow cabinet colleagues wrote to Grant Shapps back in July highlighting these issues. We got very short shrift from Grant Shapps, who wrote back to us in the first week of August saying, in his words, that he wouldn’t be using foreign labour to solve this issue.

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“Now, the government says it wants to train up … and I’m absolutely in favour of training up HGV drivers, but it hasn’t done that to a sufficient extent, nor has it until recently made a very small concession on being able to bring drivers in from abroad.

“So this is a catastrophic failure of leadership, it looks like we’ve ended up with petrol running out, the prime minister talking about bringing the army in. This is a crisis of the government’s own making.”