Time to get a grip on supply chain crisis as pumps start running dry
- Credit: Denise Bradley
The government needs to get a grip and see the bigger picture, a haulage boss said, as the shortage of drivers saw the pumps start running dry on filling station forecourts.
A handful of filling station closures sparked a stampede for the pumps amid fears of shortages on Friday. By the early afternoon Sainsbury's in Attleborough became the first to close as it ran out of fuel.
Tom Cornwell, regional manager for the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said: "A lot of this is a knock-on effect from the driver shortage.
"There's a huge issue at the moment with the haulage companies being able to get enough drivers to make deliveries. The biggest problem is getting the fuel to the pumps."
Industry leaders say there are 100,000 fewer drivers than we need. Tens of thousands of foreign drivers have gone home because of Brexit. Many have quit the industry because of long hours and poor conditions.
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The coronavirus pandemic has delayed HGV tests, slowing the flow of newly-qualified drivers coming through to replace them.
The government says it has simplified the testing process and re-deployed examiners to speed up the process. Boris Johnson has also agreed to relax visa restrictions on foreign lorry drivers.
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But Dominic Purslow, general manager at Fakenham-based Jack Richards, said: "The government are making promises to relax restrictions, to get people tested but they've got to go through Parliament, they've got to be signed off.
"So we're sitting here saying great - it's not fixing anything."
Mr Purslow said even if the test process was speeded up, there would be a bottleneck further down the line with training companies not having enough vehicles for the number of drivers who needed teaching.
He said Jack Richards was in talks with a training provider to lend it vehicles to help clear its waiting list. He added the government should also allow larger hauliers, with their own training set ups to certify drivers once they had taught them to drive.
Cars were backed up along the A149 at Heacham from first thing on Friday. The situation may have been made worse by the closure of the Tesco filling station at nearby Hunstanton for building work and holidaymakers worrying whether they had enough in their tanks to get home.
One member of staff said there was plenty of fuel to meet the spike in demand because a tanker had made a delivery on Friday morning.
There were queues at sites in Norwich. In Dereham, queues at the Morrisons filling station made it difficult for shoppers to access the store.
There were also long queues at the town's Lynn Hill BP, which caused hold-ups on London Road, while Tesco had run out of diesel.
Things were a little quieter off the beaten track. One worker at Murco, on the A1122 at Crimplesham, near Downham Market, said he had seen a few more customers than normal.
Bus operators across Norfolk have also been reporting delays due to queues at petrol stations, while Norfolk police urged people not to queue on the roads, saying it could cause problems for emergency vehicles.
"I've been seeing different people and more than usual filling up," he added. "The news seems to have scared people when it came out yesterday, I've heard of some garages struggling."
AA president Edmund King said: "There is no shortage of fuel and thousands of forecourts are operating normally with just a few suffering temporary supply chain problem."
But there were reports on social media of garages limiting customers to £20 of fuel. There was also criticism of some media reports.
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".
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