FUEL CHAOS: We hear your thoughts surrounding the recent fuel shortages
Ministers have rejected criticism that Boris Johnson failed to mobilise the Army quickly enough as the fuel crisis showed little sign of abating.
The Government announced on Monday it was putting troops on standby to drive petrol tankers as filling stations in many parts of the country continued to run dry.
But with anger building at the long queues faced by motorists, some senior Tories urged the Government to go further and start actively using the military to restore public confidence.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that ordering troops to begin preparing to take on deliveries was the 18th separate measure take by the Government since the spring to alleviate pressure on supplies.
However he acknowledged that Brexit had “no doubt” been a factor in the current problems with a continuing shortage of lorry drivers.
In a pooled clip for broadcasters, Mr Shapps said there were the first “very tentative” signs that the situation was beginning to stabilise with more fuel reaching filling stations.
He admitted, however, that it would take time before the pressure on the forecourts began to ease.
“There are now the first very tentative signs of stabilisation in forecourt storage which won’t be reflected in the queues as yet,” he said.
“But it is the first time that we have seen more petrol actually in the petrol stations.
“As the industry said yesterday, the sooner we can all return to our normal buying habits, the sooner the situation will return to normal.”
The chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), Brian Madderson, said that while demand was down from the “extreme” levels seen at the weekend, it was still “well above the norm”.
Filling stations were continuing to run dry with some of the big groups down to around 50% of their sites.
“There is still a problem out there. There is still a bit of panic buying, there is still queuing but we are hopeful that we are seeing the first signs of a move towards equilibrium later in the week,” he told Sky News.
With reports of fights breaking out on forecourts amid mounting frustration, the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee Tobias Ellwood said the Government needed to show it had a clear plan for dealing with the crisis.
“Simply hoping this situation will return to normal is not a strategy,” he told Sky News.
“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.”
Mr Shapps, however, rejected claims they should have begun troops to start delivering supplies sooner.
“There is a series of escalations that you go through in a crisis like this,” he said.
“The system was just about coping until last weekend and it would have been capable of continuing to do so.
“Unfortunately, as we have seen with toilet rolls and other things, once people start to pursue a particular item it can quickly escalate.”
The Transport Secretary said the primary cause of the crisis had been the pandemic which had led to the cancellation of 30,000 HGV tests last year resulting in a shortage of qualified drivers.
However, he acknowledged that Brexit – which had cut off the supply of foreign drivers – has had an impact.
“No doubt it will have been a factor. On the other hand it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly,” he said.
“So, it has actually worked in both ways.”
The Government had been hoping the queues would ease as people returned to more normal buying patterns.
However Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who issued the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities request on Monday, said putting troops on readiness to assist was a “sensible, precautionary step”.
“If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localised demand for fuel,” he said.
It was reported that initially 75 drivers would be given additional training to enable them to drive tankers, with a further 75 available if required.
Meanwhile, ministers continued to face calls to give priority access to fuel supplies to healthcare staff and other essential workers.
Dr David Wrigley, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association, warned essential services could be hit if staff were unable to get to work because they could not fill up.
“We can’t be waiting two or three hours in a queue for fuel when we have patients to see,” he told Times Radio.
“It’s a critical situation where we’re unsure we’ll have the fuel to do NHS and social care work, so a plan does need to be in place.”
The NASUWT teaching union said priority access should also be given to teachers if children were not to face further disruption to their education.
General secretary Patrick Roach said: “For many teachers, the use of public transport is simply not an option, with many schools in areas that are not easily accessible other than by using private vehicles.”
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