10 days to avoid Christmas disruption, warn retailers amid driver shortages

The British Retail Consortium has warned that disruption to festive preparations will be ‘inevitable’ without progress soon.

Closed pumps at a Shell garage
Closed pumps at a Shell garage

Retailers have warned the Government that it has just 10 days to save Christmas from “significant disruption” due to the HGV driver shortage.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned that disruption to festive preparations will be “inevitable” if progress is not made to solve the shortfall of around 90,000 lorry drivers.

The stark warning came as BP, Esso and Tesco petrol forecourts were impacted by challenges getting petrol deliveries.

BP said that around 20 of its 1,200 petrol forecourts were closed due to a lack of available fuel, with between 50 and 100 sites affected by the loss of at least one grade of fuel.

A “small number” of Tesco refilling stations have also been impacted, said Esso owner ExxonMobil, which runs the sites.

The Transport Secretary has tried to dissuade drivers from panic buying petrol, although there have been chaotic scenes at petrol stations across the country.

Grant Shapps said on Friday that motorists should “carry on as normal”.

“The advice would be to carry on as normal, and that is what BP is saying as well,” he told Sky News.

On Friday morning queues started to form outside some filling stations in the UK.

Photos from Maidenhead and Leeds showed cars trying to reach the pumps.

Senior ministers were understood to be meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss possible solutions to the shortage of HGV drivers.

Lorry driver shortage
Queues at a Sainsbury’s petrol station in Colton, Leeds, on Friday morning (Danny Lawson/PA)

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said: “HGV drivers are the glue which hold our supply chains together.

“Without them, we are unable to move goods from farms to warehouses to shops.

“Currently, the UK faces a shortfall of around 90,000 HGV drivers and it is consumers who ultimately suffer the consequences.

“Unless a solution can be found in the next 10 days, it is inevitable that we will see significant disruption in the run-up to Christmas.”

On the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Shapps promised he would do what is needed to ensure that petrol gets to drivers.

“I’ll move heaven and earth to do anything that’s required to make sure that lorries carry on moving our goods and services and petrol around the country,” he said.

Mr Shapps denied that Brexit was the culprit in the UK’s recent shortage of lorry drivers, arguing that the split from the European Union has helped the Government react.

“Not only are there very large and even larger shortages in other EU countries like Poland and Germany, which clearly can’t be to do with Brexit, but actually because of Brexit I’ve been able to change the law and alter the way our driving tests operate in a way I could not have done if we were still part of the EU,” he said.

“So, Brexit actually has provided part of the solution of giving more slots available for HGV (heavy goods vehicle) tests and there are a lot more, twice as many, tests available now than before the pandemic, a large proportion of those we’ve only been able to do because we are no longer in the EU.”

At a meeting a week ago, BP reportedly told the Government that the company was struggling to get fuel to its forecourts.

Its head of UK retail Hanna Hofer described the situation as “bad, very bad”, according to a report by ITV News.

BP had “two-thirds of normal forecourt stock levels required for smooth operations”, she said, adding that the level is “declining rapidly”.

A petrol tanker delivers fuel to a Shell petrol station in Liverpool which was closed due to having no fuel (Peter Byrne/PA)
A petrol tanker delivers fuel to a Shell petrol station in Liverpool which was closed due to having no fuel (Peter Byrne/PA)

The AA has said that most of the UK’s forecourts are working as they should amid worries over supply of petrol at some sites.

“There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally, with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problems,” said AA president Edmund King.

“Fridays and the weekend always tend to be busier on forecourts as drivers either combine filling up with shopping runs, prepare for weekend trips or refuel for the start of the new working week.

“Drivers should not fill up outside their normal routines because, even if the occasional petrol station is temporarily closed, others just down the road will be open.

“It is now clear that there have been occasional delays over recent weeks that have been managed with hardly anyone noticing. This was a manageable problem.”

On Thursday, Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association trade body said that the Government had allowed the driver shortage to get “gradually worse” in recent months.

Queues at a Shell garage in Taplow, near Maidenhead, Berkshire (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Queues at a Shell garage in Taplow, near Maidenhead, Berkshire (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“We have got a shortage of 100,000 (drivers),” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

“When you think that everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a lorry, whether it’s fuel or food or clothes or whatever it is, at some point, if there are no drivers to drive those trucks, the trucks aren’t moving and we’re not getting our stuff.”

He added: “I don’t think we are talking about absolutely no fuel or food or anything like that, people shouldn’t panic buy food or fuel or anything else, that’s not what this is about.

“This is about stock outs, it’s about shortages, it’s about a normal supply chain being disrupted.”

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