Soldiers got behind the wheel of Britain’s fuel tankers today as ministers ordered petrol companies to target a ‘surge’ of deliveries to empty filling stations in London and the South East.
Troops in combat gear were seen at the Buncefield oil depot in Hemel Hempstead this morning as a steady flow of tankers left the site.
It came as Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said shortages were ‘getting worse’ in the UK’s most populous region, where ‘one in five’ filling stations were still dry.
Today, accounts from drivers on the ground suggested the situation could be even worse in some areas, with TV presenter Matthew Stadlen saying he passed five petrol stations which were all empty of unleaded. Another Twitter user said he had passed seven petrol stations in the capital this morning and every one was closed.
In contrast, supplies in the North of England and the Midlands are said to be improving, with only 6 per cent of garages dry in the Midlands, northern England and Scotland.
Today, the PRA’s chief executive Gordon Balmer told Sky News said it could take ‘a week to 10 days’ to get all sites running with normal levels of fuel.
David Charman, the director of Parkfoot Garage in West Malling, Kent, said that customers are ‘not panic buying any more’ but are drivers who have ‘waited as long as they possibly can’ and now have no fuel left.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is understood to want troops to free up other drivers to prioritise areas most in need.
‘We need to see a rapid surge of supplies to London and the southeast,’ a government source told The Times. ‘It has been made very clear to the industry that the additional capacity from the armed forces needs to be used to get tankers to those areas where there are still significant petrol shortages.’
It came as the government’s reserve petrol tankers were pictured still sitting in a storage yard in Cambridgeshire this morning – despite government assurances the fuel crisis would be resolved.
A member of the armed forces drives a tanker today out of Buncefield oil depot, known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, in Hemel Hempstead
Around 200 military personnel, half of them drivers, are being deployed in Operation Escalin, despite ministers insisting the situation at the pumps is easing
A man was seen filling multiple jerry cans in his car boot at an Asda Petrol Station in Greenwich, South East London
Huge queues of motorists wait for fuel at an Esso petrol station in Ashford, Kent as Britain’s fuel crisis continued
British soldiers drive a fuel truck leaving Buncefield oil storage depot as British military to start delivering fuel to petrol stations
The soldiers have been receiving training from logistics company Hoyer and are now out on the roads today
A fuel truck leaves Buncefield oil storage to deliver fuel to petrol stations in London this morning
Soldiers are seen behind the wheel at the Buncefield oil storage depot as they join an effort to restock depleted petrol stations
Members of the military arrive at Buncefield oil depot in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire to start driving oil tankers this morning
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is understood to want the soldiers (seen this morning at the Buncefield oil storage depot) to free up other drivers to prioritise areas most in need
The army was called out after panic buying exacerbated existing petrol supply issues caused by a shortage of lorry drivers (troops are seen today)
A Shell Petrol Station in Bermondsey had no fuel this morning. Around 20% of filling stations in London and the South East are believed to be in the same situation
Today, accounts from drivers on the ground suggested the situation could be even worse in some areas, with TV presenter Matthew Stadlen saying he passed five petrol stations which were all empty of unleaded
The government’s reserve petrol tankers were still sitting in a storage yard in Cambridgeshire this morning – despite government assurances the fuel crisis would be resolved. Around three quarters of the 40 tankers, worth an estimated £4 million, are parked in the storage depot in Fenstanton
Only about 10 of the white tankers, which are stored at the depot in case of a national emergency, appear to have left the storage site
Government’s reserve petrol tankers are STILL in a storage yard despite promises to resolve the fuel crisis
The government’s reserve petrol tankers were still sitting in a storage yard in Cambridgeshire this morning – despite government assurances the fuel crisis would be resolved.
Around three quarters of the 40 tankers, worth an estimated £4 million, are parked in the storage depot in Fenstanton, whilst many forecourts across the UK remain closed due to a shortage of truck drivers.
Only about 10 of the white tankers, which are stored at the depot in case of a national emergency, appear to have left the storage site.
The fuel crisis has caused huge queues outside some petrol stations, whilst other forecourts have run out of supplies and closed completely.
The army has been spotted helping out at some forecourts but a large number are still closed.
David Charman, of Parkfoot Garage in West Malling, said retailers were unable to cope with a surge of demand because a shortage of lorry drivers has meant sites do not have their usual reserve capacity.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’ve been at the site every day walking and talking to our customers queuing up the road. This is not panic buying anymore, these are people who have waited as long as they possibly can and have no fuel.
‘We are having to push cars that are in the queue because they’ve run out of fuel.
‘We were just about managing for the last couple of months, we didn’t have that normal two days of stock underground.
‘Now when we’re all empty it needs a huge influx of fuel deliveries to everybody to get everyone through this.’
He continued: ‘Our fuel company and Hoyer have full visibility of our stock and they manage this extremely well and we have very few times when we run out of fuel.
‘But there wasn’t that buffer stock underground because they were short of drivers so when the problem hit it became very bad very quickly.
‘This is no longer about competition between us and others, this is about satisfying customers that desperately need to get to work and desperately need to perform the functions that they do for the country.’
Around 200 military personnel – half of them drivers – are being deployed in Operation Escalin, despite ministers insisting the situation at the pumps is easing.
They include members of 3rd Logistic Support Regiment who have been training with the petroleum industry logistics company Hoyers in Thurrock in Essex.
The Petrol Retailers Association Brian Madderson welcomed the introduction of military drivers, but warned they will have only a limited impact. He said extra deliveries should go to the South East first where there was a ‘really big problem’.
‘The fuel is still not going to the pumps that need it most in London and the southeast,’ he said.
‘It’s all really to do with the population: we have 25 million-plus living in and around London [and the] home counties.’
He added: ‘To go with that we have a massive amount of delivery vans, a massive amount of vehicles, and that is just the chronic situation.’
However, he said in the north there was a ‘plentiful supply at filling stations’ and little queueing. He added: ‘We now need the government to work with the downstream fuel industry on ‘levelling up’ London and the southeast, where the fuel is most needed right now.’
Tankers seen leaving the BP refinery in Hampshire fully loaded at the start of a ‘surge’ to fill up empty stations in the South East
Fuel tankers parked this morning at Buncefield oil depot, known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal. Around 200 troops were deployed this morning to make up for a shortage of drivers
Tankers leaving the refinery this morning as a ‘surge’ plan began to target empty petrol stations in the South East
A worker fills up a tanker at the BP refinery in Buncefield, which is known as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal
An Esso petrol station that had run out of fuel this morning in London. The Petrol Retailers Association says 20% of garages in the South East are out of fuel
There was a sign outside of the Esso station in London saying ‘we are sorry but we currently have no fuel’
Members of the military seen this morning at the Hemel Hempstead Terminal, which is operated by BP
Motorists fill up their tanks at a Tesco in South East London, which was still in operation this morning
British Army are seen delivering fuel to a Shell Garage in New Forest Hampshire yesterday as they were shown how to unload the fuel into the forecourt tanks
Asked about the deployment of Army drivers, he said: ‘This isn’t going to be the major panacea. It’s a large help but in terms of the volume, they are not going to be able to carry that much.
‘We do need a prioritisation of deliveries to filling stations – particularly the independent ones which are the neighbourhood retail sites – in London and the South East, starting immediately.’
David Charman, of Parkfoot Garage in West Malling, (holding an industry award) said retailers were unable to cope with a surge of demand because a shortage of lorry drivers has meant sites do not have their usual reserve capacity
It comes as greedy garage bosses were accused of profiting from the crisis by charging almost £3 for a litre of petrol.
A Gulf petrol station in west London is charging £2.93 a litre for super unleaded – a staggering 98 per cent increase on its normal price of £1.48.
Figures compiled by the FairFuelUK campaign group indicated that the average national price of a litre of petrol now stands at 141.9p. Diesel drivers are now paying 145.5p.
Experts believe petrol prices are likely to increase by between 3p and 5p this week as demand continues to outstrip supply.
Mr Madderson said rising world oil prices meant motorists should expect higher prices at the pumps when filling stations are resupplied. He added: ‘Expect anything from one, two or even 3p a litre increases at the pump.
‘This is not profiteering. This is genuine wholesale price increases caused by global factors.’
But he admitted there had been examples of profiteering at some garages, adding: ‘We certainly do not condone that at all.’
Howard Cox, of FairFuelUK, said: ‘We want fair prices for consumers. But right now Britain’s motorists are being ipped off under the smokescreen of the chaos.’
The group – pictured yesterday – had followed a lorry from Hoyer in their blue crew bus before being shown how to unload the fuel into the forecourt tanks while an accompanying tanker driver told them it would take 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete the job
Paul Drinkwater (pictured centre, yesterday), a Driver Training Instructor for Hoyer Petrolog UK, shows British Army and RAF drivers important features of the fuel tankers at training in Thurrock in order for them to deliver fuel from today
This graphic shows the fuel situation in the country last week – there are few signs of improvement in the South East today
Breakdown companies have reported a surge in callouts by motorists left stranded when their tanks run dry.
Simon Williams, of the RAC, said: ‘We’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of our members who have broken down as a result of running out of fuel, and last Monday alone we attended twice as many drivers in a single day for this problem than we would normally see over a whole week.’
Panicked motorists have also been caught out after filling up with the wrong type of fuel after queuing for hours at forecourts.
Around 100 trained Army drivers with an additional 100 support troops will be deployed in the coming days, despite repeated assurances by ministers the situation is stabilising.
Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden told Sky News: ‘People feel deeply frustrated and I share their anger and frustration.
‘That’s why the Government is working tirelessly to resolve that situation and 200 military personnel will be deployed to help drive tankers to ensure that we overcome this.’
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents thousands of independent forecourts across the UK, has welcomed the introduction of the military from tomorrow, as it said fuel shortages are getting worse in some parts of the country (Pictured: Soldiers being shown important features of Hoyer lorry yesterday)
A member of the Royal Logistics Corps is shown important features of the fuel tanker cab as the Army prepares to help tackle fuel crisis from today
Motorists queue for a petrol station to open at a Tesco in Ashford, Kent yesterday morning
Queues at Tesco filling station in Ely, Cambridgeshire yesterday morning at 8.30am
Boris Johnson, attending the opening day of the Tory Party conference in Manchester on Sunday, expressed confidence the crisis was ‘abating’ and said the military were being deployed as a ‘precaution’.
The Prime Minister however repeatedly refused to rule out shortages in the wider economy in the run up to Christmas.
As well as an estimated shortfall of 100,000 HGV drivers, businesses from meat producers to retail, have warned of empty shelves if the shortages are not addressed.
Mr Johnson acknowledged the country was going through a ‘period of adjustment’ following Brexit, which has cut off the supply of labour from the EU.
He insisted that he was not prepared to resolve the situation by pulling ‘the big lever marked uncontrolled immigration’ to let in more foreign workers.
He said firms should ensure their employees were ‘decently paid’ if they wanted to get more staff.
Army personnel under instruction yesterday at the Esso Purfleet Fuels Terminal in Purfleet, Essex