SOURCE: BBC- The Army is ready to help ease fuel supply problems after a fourth day of long queues and pump closures.
Up to 150 military tanker drivers will prepare to deliver to forecourts which have run dry because of panic buying.
The surge in demand came amid fears a driver shortage would hit fuel supply – which is plentiful at refineries.
The transport secretary said there were “tentative signs” of stabilisation in petrol stations and queues would start to reflect this in the coming days.
Grant Shapps said: “Once we all return to our normal buying habits… the quicker we get back to normality.”
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said there were “early signs” the pressure on petrol stations was starting to ease,
The organisation, which represents nearly 5,500 of the UK’s 8,000 stations, said around 37% of its sites had run out of fuel. That is a big improvement on the situation on Sunday, when two-thirds had run dry.
“With regular restocks taking place, this percentage [of petrol stations with fuel] is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours,” it added in a statement.
The UK is estimated to be short of more than 100,000 lorry drivers – causing problems for a range of industries, including food suppliers and supermarkets, in recent months.
The government has said people needlessly buying fuel has led to queues at many forecourts, with fuel running out in some places.
But there are growing calls for key workers, such as health and social care staff, to receive priority access to available fuel after some reported not being able to get to work due to the supply issues.
Daniyal Ahsan, a junior doctor in London, told the BBC he went to 17 petrol stations after work on Monday in search of fuel – but wasn’t able to get any, leaving him concerned about how this would affect his patients. He has since been able to fill up his car.
Dr Jane Townson, chief executive of UK Homecare Association, warned that some people who depend on carers for tasks like taking pain medication could die if they are left without help.
Roger Grosvenor, of the East of England Co-op petrol stations, told the BBC the group would create a daily priority hour for emergency workers if fuel supply problems had not eased by Thursday.
Motoring group the RAC said the price of a litre of unleaded petrol had risen by a penny since Friday to an eight-year high – and knew a small number of retailers had been hiking prices amid the soaring demand.
It added it had seen a “sharp increase” in the number of drivers who had broken down after running out of fuel – with engineers attending twice as many breakdowns on Monday than it would normally see over a whole week.
The AA motoring organisation said it had seen a “dramatic rise” in motorists putting the wrong fuel in vehicles compared to last weekend.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the move to place the Army on standby was a “sensible, precautionary step” and if troops had to be deployed, they would temporarily “provide the supply chain with additional capacity” to ease the pressure caused by increased fuel demand.
The BBC has been told that 75 military drivers are on standby initially, and another 75 could be added if needed. They require up to five days of specialised training.
Huw Merriman, a Conservative MP and chairman of the transport select committee, said readying the army was a “good example” of ministers trying to use as many levers at their disposal as possible, and would be used as a “last resort” if the situation did not stabilise in the next couple of days.
But Mr Merriman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the industry must explain how it planned to fix long-standing driver shortages rather than having the government constantly step in.
“These problems have been there for years because the average age of the driver is 55 years old, they’re retiring, and the industry has not made this job attractive. For too long, working conditions have been poor, and those that are willing to tolerate it have been from abroad.”